Unit ICT

Connecting with World

The present curricula for ICT in Education aims at realising the goals of the National Policy of ICT in Schools Education and the National Curriculum Framework.

Given the dynamic nature of ICT, the curricula, emphasising the core educational purposes, is generic in design and focuses on a broad exposure to technologies, together aimed at enhancing creativity and imagination of the learners.

For the teacher, it is an initiation into:

  • Exploring educational possibilities of technology,
  • Learning to make right choices of hardware, software and ICT interactions, and
  • Growing to become a critical user of ICT.

For the student, it is an initiation into:

  • Creativity and problem solving,
  • An introduction to the world of information and technologies, and
  • An opportunity to shape career pursuits.

Teachers who are already proficient in ICT can fast track through the course.

Based on availability of infrastructure and access, students can begin as early as grade 6, in any case, completing the course before they leave school.


ICT in Education Curricula for school education encompasses of teachers and students curricula. The overview of course details is shown below:

Guiding Principles

  1. The curricula shall be generic, drawing upon the features of a wide range of technological applications and focussing on educational purposes.
  2. The focus of the curricula shall be on learning to compute, which includes learning to create using a variety of hardware and software tools. ICT literacy, defi.ned as the knowledge and ability to wield tools and devices, shall be an incidental outcome of this learning.
  3. The curricula shall provide adequate opportunity for hands on learning and open ended exploration of ICT applications. Sharing of learning and critical evaluation of the learning shall be integral to the strategy.
  4. A healthy ICT environment requires heightened awareness of the social, ethical and legal aspects of its use. Software piracy and plagiarism shall be explicitly denounced and discouraged. Creation of original content, taking pride in the creation and duly recognising others’ contributions shall be promoted. Safe and secure use of ICT shall also be promoted.
  5. The curricula shall promote the full utilisation of infrastructure and resources, integrating it with the school’s programme. Universal access and fostering of a sense of ownership shall be encouraged to ensure maximum impact. Innovative ways of reaching the unreached shall be promoted.

Learning Strands

The learning strands seek to build capacities to handling today’s and tomorrow’s technologies appropriate for use in education, capitalizing on technology to master technology, managing the ICT infrastructure, using technology to surmount bar- riers and to acquiring insights to lead technology educationally. The six strands are:

Courses for Teachers

Courses for Students

Connecting with the Larger World

You belong. We do this with you, not in spite of you. You can trust me not to humiliate you and to keep you from humiliating yourself.

By: Rick Wormeli


Connecting with the Larger World

These are the messages in action or in word that students want to hear daily from teachers. To promote these themes, we give students positions of responsibility and the know-how to do them: running the daily newscasts, updating the website, coordinating environmental efforts and guest speaker programs, directing plays, managing the music library or team equipment, leading a club, designing and building classroom displays, and coordinating blood drives.

Positions of responsibility engage students more personally, and this connects them to the school; they have a part to play. Working together for an audience other than the teacher really strengthens bonds among the group.

We can meet the need to “be a part of something larger than myself” by facilitating major, multi-role projects like service learning programs; putting on a school play, musical performance, or festival; and requiring that all students participate on at least one sports team.

To pull this off, we’d have to adopt a “no-cut” policy for most teams, performances, and festivals in middle school, and we’d rotate everyone into meaningful participation at some point during each event. We can take the entire class on a day long hike up a mountain, making the goal to get everyone up the mountain, not just ourselves.

Students explore who they are in relation to others when they experience a day-long ropes initiatives course in which they navigate the 12-foot wall, the zip wire, the “electric fence,” human knots, and more.

They define themselves when interviewing the elderly, inserting personality into projects, writing letters to their future selves that the teacher sends to them on the appointed date, and telling their story of how they learned math, science, music, and art by writing their autobiographies for each subject.

We can divide students into smaller groups or teams so they are well known to a specific group of adults. We can learn students’ names and use them frequently as continuing proof that students are important enough to have their names remembered, and we can ask their classmates to also use their peers’ names in discussions: “I’d like to add something to what Ingrid just said,” “Jerry’s point was taken out of context.” Having your name and interests known to respected leaders of your group is powerful confirmation of connection.

With participation in social media so prevalent among our students, there’s no doubt that connection matters. In schools where most of the student body have access to the internet, we can start our own password-protected online communities around classroom content. We can conduct moderated discussion groups and collaborate on projects through Google Docs and wikis and much more.

The tools for substantive online community-building keep coming our way.

Rick Wormeli is is a long-time teacher, consultant, and writer living in Herndon, Virginia. Check out his recent book, The Collected Writings (So Far) of Rick Wormeli: Crazy Good Stuff I Learned about Teaching.

“Think bigger about science”: Using Twitter for learning in the middle grades

By: Ryan Becker, Penny Bishop



Middle level educators have a deep awareness of their students’ tremendously social nature. Young adolescents yearn to be connected with their peers, whether sharing excitedly during lunch, on the school bus, or in the hall- ways, and regardless of whether they are face-to-face, across a room, or immersed in a screen. Digital tools, including social media, now enable these interactions at an almost ubiquitous level, both in and out of school. Students’ social media use has become so prevalent that fully 82% of 13-year-olds report using social network sites regularly (Lenhart et al., 2011). Moreover, of those teens who use social media, the vast majority believe their use has a positive influence on their social and emotional well- being (Rideout, 2012).

This We Believe characteristics:

  • Students and teachers are engaged in active, purposeful learning
  • Educators use multiple learning and teaching approaches

Over the past decade, educators have attempted to capitalize on students’ affinity for technology by integrating it into learning experiences. Indeed, digital tools have the potential to engage and motivate students (Downes & Bishop, 2012; Hur & Oh, 2012); to increase academic outcomes (Eden, Shamir, & Fershtman, 2011; Lazakidou & Retalis, 2010); and to improve attendance and discipline (Solomon & Schrum, 2007). With the explosion of Web 2.0 technologies, students’ use of the web has morphed from a consumption-dominated experience to one in which they can create, share, and collaborate (Crook, 2008; Schuck, Aubusson, & Kearney, 2010). With so many new technologies at their fingertips, educators may feel overwhelmed by the possibilities. Using social networking tools to enhance student engagement and learning is tempting yet where does one begin?

We—Ryan, a middle school science teacher, and Penny, a teacher educator—have increasingly become intrigued by the potential of Twitter as a means for teaching and learning in the 21st century. In this article, we examine Ryan’s use of Twitter as a learning tool in a middle grades science classroom. We first provide context for this tool by describing the distinction between open and closed digital environments. We then explore why social media, including Twitter, might be useful for middle grades students in particular, given the nature and needs of young adolescents. Next we describe the ways Ryan integrated Twitter into his teaching. Following this, we outline the perceived outcomes for students, including the perspectives of middle grades students themselves. Finally, we consider challenges of this practice for teachers and conclude with recommendations for educators who are considering integrating social media into their pedagogy.

Open and closed environments

In less than a decade, the emergence and evolution of tools such as blogs, wikis, social bookmarking sites, Google Docs, YouTube, Facebook, and Twitter have transformed virtually all aspects of students’ web experiences. Learning platforms (e.g., Edmodo, Google Classroom) that integrate aspects of Web 2.0 technologies into structured and regulated digital learning spaces have also emerged. At its core, each tool provides opportunities for sharing, inter- action, and collaboration—albeit to differing degrees and among differing populations, especially when considered along a spectrum of openness.

In schools, students using platforms like Edmodo, as well as tools such as blogs, wikis, and Google Apps for Education, tend to interact digitally with other students within a teacher or school-defined framework. Sometimes referred to as “academic social networking,” this approach to teaching and learning “combines aspects of social networking with an academic focus as the teacher guides students in a virtual constructivist learning environment” (Taranto & Abbondanza, 2009, p. 38). From teacher-generated starting points, students use digital networking tools to share perspectives and opinions with their class- mates, comment on those of others, and participate in virtual discussions (Taranto, Dalbon, & Gaetano, 2011). Because this approach relies, at least initially, on teacher-generated prompts, and has a user population that consists only of classmates, it is considered a “closed” digital environment, and one that falls toward the restrictive end of the Web 2.0 spectrum. Teachers often prefer closed digital environments because they provide predictability and structure as well as the ability to monitor users and moderate discussions.

In contrast, at the open end of the Web 2.0 spectrum lie more publically popular forms of social media such as Twitter and Facebook, tools actively used by hundreds of millions of diverse users throughout the world. While it is also possible to place parameters on them, these tools rely on their inherently open nature to generate the vast networks and global, real-time communication that define them. In short, these tools present “open” environments whose users, and uses, have few restrictions. Started in 2006, Twitter is one such venue that is “a real-time information network that connects you to the latest stories, ideas, opinions and news about what you find inter- esting” (Twitter, 2013). Consisting of more than 280 million active users worldwide, Twitter utilizes tweets—bursts of information in 140 characters or less—to enable users to share perspectives and media with others throughout the world in real time. People receive tweets from whomever they “follow,” and send tweets to whom- ever “follows” them.

Despite its global reach and its power to connect individuals with shared interests, we know remarkably little about the use and effectiveness of applying Twitter, and other “open” social networking tools, in middle grades settings. The few studies that do exist, however, show promise. For example, Van Vooren and Bess (2013) found a positive correlation between the use of Twitter and eighth-grade student performance on standardized tests. The majority of other studies of Twitter use focus primarily on post-secondary education, such as in nursing education (Skiba, 2008), marketing classes (Rinaldo, Tapp, & Laverie, 2011), student perceptions of instructor credibility (Johnson, 2011), and college students’ grades and academic engagement (Junco, Heiberger, & Loken, 2010). Given young adolescents’ unique developmental needs, their social nature, and their affinity for technology, understanding how Twitter might be used for teaching and learning in a middle grades classroom has considerable implications for educators.

Twitter and the nature of early adolescence

During early adolescence, students explore new understandings of themselves and their relationships with others, develop lasting perceptions of themselves as students and learners, and actively envision their futures (National Middle School Association [NMSA], 2010; Stevenson, 2002). Because these perceptions emerge from the formative crucible of early adolescence, they are often deeply forged. The guided use of open forms of social media in school offers new ways for students to access, engage with, and make sense of the world around them, both within and outside of their classroom walls. Importantly, rather than supplanting experiential learning, social media can complement these experiences, and holds the potential to spark a deeper and more intrinsic desire to pursue such activities, both in school and in students’ many other life spheres.

For some middle grades teachers, such a leap can be daunting, given the age of the students and the reality that open social networking tools require relinquishing a degree of structure and control. Yet such an act can be precisely what students this age need developmentally. Opportunities to pursue personalized, content-specific connections, and to discover, explore, and share novel, content-rich resources via social media, can be empowering for young adolescents. Guided by a knowledgeable educator, the infusion of social media into teaching and learning may also provide valuable embedded learning opportunities related to both digital citizenship (Lenhart et al., 2011; Ribble, 2011) and new literacies (Coiro, Knobel, Lankshear, & Leu, 2008; Greenhow & Gleason, 2012; Greenhow & Robelia, 2009).

Social media comprise an important dimension of adolescents’ lives. Surveys and reports repeatedly demonstrate the prevalence and significance of these tools in the lives and interactions of children (Lenhart, Purcell, Smith, & Zickuhr, 2010; Lenhart et al., 2011; Project Tomorrow, 2012; Rideout, 2012; Vockley, 2007). Furthermore, use of social media is not restricted to topics of personal nature alone. The National School Board Association’s (NSBA) report, Creating and Connecting: Research and Guidelines on Online Social—and Educational—Networking (Vockley, 2007), found that “almost 60 percent of students who use social network- ing talk about education topics online and, surprisingly, more than 50 percent talk specifically about schoolwork” (p. 1). Citing the ubiquitous nature of social media both in the lives of students and society writ large, Taranto and Abbondanza (2009) stated, “banning social net- working or even denying its popularity is not only inappropriate but also borderline irresponsible when it comes to providing the best educational experiences for students” (p. 38). From their perspective, “schools must embrace and provide opportunities for teachers to utilize social networking in a responsible and structured manner to support academics” (p. 38).

The use of open forms of social media in school has the potential to positively impact middle level learners in many ways. In an era fraught with concern about privacy, cyber safety, and inappropriate content, parents’ and teachers’ concerns are understandable. However, the prospect of combining adolescents’ social and intellectual affinities with meaningful opportunities for them to engage with a personalized, authentic audience—unrestricted by time, space, and geography—is too promising to dismiss. Twitter is a tool that affords these learning possibilities.

Using Twitter for learning: Ryan’s classroom

To best understand the context in which Ryan’s eighth-grade physical science classes use Twitter, it is helpful to understand the following characteristics of his classes and his middle school in general. Woodstock Union Middle School is a relatively rural, grades 7–8 school with a total population of approximately 150 students. During the 2013–2014 school year, the student population was 93% White, with 27% receiving free or reduced lunch (FRL) and approximately 19% receiving special education services. Each science class is approximately 80 minutes in length and is heterogeneously grouped. The students fall along a spectrum of ability levels in reading, writing, and mathematics, including English language learners and those receiving special education services. All students have their own school-issued netbook that they bring with them to each of their classes and wireless Internet access exists throughout the grades seven–12 building.

Within this context, Twitter offers students meaning- ful connections to science, shared by reputable sources, as they develop and are shared around the world. Because these connections can be personalized, based on whom a student decides to follow, Twitter encourages students to realize connections between science and their own lives and interests. Beyond content consumption, Twitter also enables students to interact and share perspectives with others outside of their specific class. While these are often classmates, depending on his or her followers, a student’s audience could extend far beyond his or her peers. Finally, Twitter encourages Ryan and his students to think creatively about ways they might share science in new ways. From a pedagogical standpoint, Twitter has been a useful way to enhance a personalized and relevant curriculum, to serve as a formative assessment tool, to provide an authentic audience, and to embed literacy tasks in science classes.

Twitter as personalized and relevant curriculum

Figure 1

Figure 1

Mars Curiosity Rover

One of Twitter’s greatest strengths lies in its ability to connect students to reputable, relevant scientific people and organizations in real time. It is hard to quantify the positive impact of being able to follow—in real time—notable science enthusiasts like Neil de Grasse Tyson and Bill Nye, reputable national organizations such as the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), popular science-related programs such as PBS’ NOVA, Discovery Channel’s MythBusters, and National Public Radio’s (NPR’s) Science Friday, as well as current science missions such as the Mars Curiosity Rover mission (see Figure 1) and the European Space Agency’s Rosetta Mission. This new dimension to science class offers constant access to up-to-the-minute perspectives, developments, and resources that can be used at any time to illustrate a concept, foster a discussion, or simply to share a fascinating nugget of science. Furthermore, because students can choose to follow any science-related person or organization that their teacher follows (including their peers), and they are encouraged to search for and recommend new individuals to follow, whom students follow is not only relevant and reputable, but also highly personalized. As a result, the lists of science-related individuals whom students follow can vary significantly and, importantly, are based on their individual interests.

Figure 2

Figure 2

A student’s tweet

Beyond simply following relevant science-related sources, students also tweet themselves. Sometimes this involves students tweeting a picture or video that illustrates a certain science concept (e.g., acceleration) during class or as part of a homework assignment. However, students are encouraged to share science-related tweets anytime, regardless of whether or not they are part of an assignment or connected to a particular unit of study. Students can generate their own tweets (see Figure 2) or retweet an existing tweet. In either case, their interest reaches an audience beyond the walls of the classroom. When students find an especially interesting tweet they can “favorite” this tweet within Twitter and/or add this tweet to a portion of their electronic portfolios entitled “Science I Like!” In the case of the latter, students take a screenshot of the tweet, post it within their e-portfolio, make the screenshot an active link to any link that was part of the original tweet, and offer a brief reflection on the content and personal relevance of the tweet.Twitter as formative assessment

Twitter can also function as a valuable formative assessment tool. Because tweets are sent and received instantaneously, they illustrate students’ thoughts, perspectives, questions, and opinions in real time. Additionally, students can reply to one another’s tweets. This added feature provides the opportunity for mini discussions to emerge around specific tweets. Furthermore, if accounts are not “protected,” hashtags (letters or words preceded by the # symbol) can be added to tweets, which enables the categorization of all tweets that include a specific hashtag. Hashtags are powerful because they create a separate space for related tweets that can be easily referred back to at later points—unlike one’s main Twitter stream, where received tweets are quickly buried by newer ones. When students’ tweets are displayed on an electronic SMART Board, formative assessment may occur with students as an active part of the process. Using a SMART Board allows all students in a class to simultaneously view the enlarged tweets of all of their classmates.

Twitter can also be a formative assessment tool both within and outside of the classroom, and for a variety of purposes. Ryan often asks students to tweet examples of specific science concepts. For example, students have tweeted personal examples of Newton’s First Law, sentences from science writing assignments, examples of favorite mixtures (including personally captured photos), science connections to holidays (e.g., Thanksgiving), and responses to specific poll questions (via a tool called Twtpoll). When asked to tweet outside of class, students are always encouraged to view and respond to their peers’ tweets. When completed in class, tweets are enlarged and displayed on the SMART Board for everyone to see. In cases where a poll is used, depending on its type, Ryan and his students can see basic response statistics (e.g., average rating, range of ratings, pie charts, etc.). In all cases this provides quick insight into students’ understandings and misconceptions, while simultaneously providing a glimpse into how they are connecting science to their own lives and interests.

Figure 3

Figure 3

Students’ summaries of chemistry

In addition to using Twitter to gauge student understanding as they move through specific units, students can also tweet to start or conclude a unit. When used as a closing activity, one can probe their perceptions regarding the essence of big ideas, concepts, and units. For example, upon completing the chemistry portion of the year, students needed to summarize chemistry in a single tweet (see Figure 3). Because this practice required students to reflect on, mentally rank, and draw connections between chemistry concepts that they covered, and then to distill this down to 140 characters or less, Ryan was able to see what students perceived as the essence of chemistry. When used as an opening activity, one can gauge prior knowledge and potential misconceptions (see Figure 4). In both cases, because tweets are shared with followers, and with all students via the SMART Board, students are able to consider the perspectives of others. Whether used before, during, or as a concluding exercise to a unit of study, Twitter can be used as a formative assessment tool to monitor and analyze student learning in order to guide instruction.

Figure 4

Figure 4

Window into a student’s prior knowledge regarding chemical reactions

Twitter as authentic audienceTwitter provides an authentic audience that extends beyond the immediacy of the classroom. Students using Twitter can be followed by both classmates within and outside of their specific classes. As a result, in virtually all cases, tweets reach an audience that is greater in number than would otherwise be the case in a traditional classroom setting. Because the driving motivation of audiences on Twitter is shared interests, audience composition within this framework is virtually unlimited. For example, students who are especially interested in space could be followed by fellow classmates, an astronomer who shares their love of space, or even an actual astronaut. If any two people are on Twitter and they share an interest, each is a potential audience for the other.

Figure 5

Figure 5

Students’ Rube Goldberg tweets

In addition to the students’ tweets described above, students sometimes tweet about a project they are doing in science class. These tweets could generate potential ideas or update others on their progress. For example, when students were making Rube Goldberg machines, many used Twitter as a tool to share inspiring videos of successful machines in preparation for the project. Several students felt inspired enough by their own progress during the project that they took to Twitter to share their excitement (see Figure 5). In another instance, Ryan used Twitter to virtually include his students in his presentation at a technology conference. Back in the classroom, students were shown a video of a peer group’s Rube Goldberg machine from another class. Students then tweeted specific examples of physics concepts that were illustrated in the video and that they had recently explored. At the same time, Ryan shared the same Rube Goldberg video with his audience at the conference. The concomitant timing enabled his audi- ence to watch the students’ tweets come into his Twitter stream in real time. This provided an illustration of a live and authentic application of Twitter as well as an authentic audience for his students.Indeed, that students themselves are an authentic audi- ence for reputable science-related individuals and organizations is also a powerful outcome of middle level students’ use of Twitter. As audience members in this real-time network, students are exposed to science content that is inherently more connected—both to current events and their personal interests—and delivered with more context than traditional textbooks. This degree of personalization and relevance can exceed even the most valiant teachers’ efforts to personalize instruction based on interest. Furthermore, because tweets come from organizations in addition to individuals, students also begin to become familiar with reputable science organizations throughout the world. Here again, the value exceeds simply exposing students to relevant science content or concepts. Students have opportunities to become familiar with long-standing organizations that will likely be at the forefront of science-related exploration, discoveries, and policy development throughout their lives. At a time when STEM interest is perhaps as high as it has ever been in our country, such familiarity will likely have a positive effect on the likelihood that these students mature into knowledgeable, scientifically informed adults.

Twitter as embedded literacy

Twitter enables students to practice embedded forms of literacy, including both traditional and new literacies. In terms of traditional literacies, students sometimes tweet a favorite sentence or two from specific science writing assignments. The practice of sharing select sentences provides them with opportunities to see how their peers approach the same writing task. Because this exercise focuses on a very specific item of analysis, typically addressing very specific criteria, it enables students to compare their approach to those of their classmates.

Figure 6

Figure 6

Students meshing science and story

From a physics perspective, for example, when rewriting the classic tale, The Tortoise and The Hare, students can see in a few seconds a wide variety of successful sentences meshing science and story—a challenging skill for most students (see Figure 6). In addition to functioning as a tool to support writing, Twitter exposes students to a variety of forms of science-related, informational text. The majority of tweets students encounter include links to articles, blogs, studies, etc.—often supported by additional media (e.g., video). Encounters with these forms of text, initiated by self-interest and choice, further supports the development of traditional forms of literacy.While the value of traditional literacies is unques- tionable, the ubiquitous nature of the Internet, including the continual evolution of associated tools and technologies, has led to the emergence of what many consider new literacies. As Coiro et al. (2008) noted, “Literacy is no longer a static construct from the standpoint of its defin- ing technology for the past 500 years; it has now come to mean a rapid and continuous process of change in the ways in which we read, write, view, listen, compose and communicate information” (p. 5). In their review of research on literary practices and social media, Greenhow and Gleason (2012) concluded, “literary practices on social network sites can be viewed as new social literacy practices,” (p. 470) and posited, “similar themes are play- ing out on Twitter” (p. 471). Because students’ use of Twitter engages them in practices, and a digital environ- ment, conducive to the development of new literacies, Greenhow and Gleason believe that these elements indeed “indicate emerging new literacy practices” (p. 471). Web 2.0 technologies, including Twitter, are also altering the way the public consumes, experiences, and makes sense of science. Speaking to this reality, Brossard and Scheufele (2013) noted, “A world in which one in seven people actively use Facebook, and more than 340 million tweets are being posted everyday is not the future of science communication any more. It is today’s reality” (p. 41). Students’ use of Twitter immerses them in this new reality, enabling them to actively participate in communicating and consuming science in new and diverse ways.

Outcomes for students

When considering the impact of Twitter on student learning and engagement, an attractive and straightfor- ward approach is simply to track the number of tweets students send. However, this approach does not necessarily convey how often students visit Twitter, what they have read or viewed, or the questions, discussions, and realizations that may have resulted. An analogy is trying to pre- dict how much students are learning by counting the number of times they raise their hands in class. While a student who raises his or her hand often is likely to realize positive academic outcomes, one cannot assume that a student who does not raise his or her hand often is not going to realize similar gains.

Ryan used Twitter to help his students realize four primary objectives: to increase student exposure to reputable science in real time, to broaden the audience for their work beyond the classroom, to expand opportunities for connecting science to their own lives and interests, and to consider new ways to communicate about science. He measures the effectiveness of Twitter qualitatively via surveys, occasional small-group interviews, and classroom observations and discussions. He especially values student responses to Google surveys as this method of data collection is anonymous, completed individually, and enables him to collect and archive feedback that directly addresses his four primary objectives. Eighth-grade students during two separate academic years have completed the same survey, which is designed to be simple and straightforward. Using a 4- point Likert scale (strongly agree, agree, disagree, strongly disagree), the survey asks students to share the degree to which they believe Twitter enables them to realize the four objectives. Optional space invites stu- dents to add comments below each response and a final question asks them if they have any additional comments or feedback.

The following sections provide a summary of student responses to the four Likert scale questions regarding the four objectives for using Twitter. Through quotes, students’ voices are also included in each section below to enrich the numerical data. Throughout all phases of their use of Twitter, student input and feedback has been critical.

Connections to science

Following real scientists on Twitter allows us to con- nect with them and share each other’s discoveries. (Eighth-grade student)

Ryan’s first objective was to provide opportunities for meaningful connections to science, shared by reputable sources, as they develop and are shared around the world. Ninety-five percent of students surveyed agreed or strongly agreed that Twitter enables them to follow real science, in real time, as it develops around the world. In one student’s words, “I feel this way because we get to see what’s going on around the world in real time and I think it’s amazing that we get a chance to do this in school.” Other students were more specific in their feedback, with one stating “NASA, and scientists that I follow, tweet a lot about cool science stuff,” and “At the moment, I am ‘following’ many different scientific organizations such as NOVA, NASA, Bill Nye, and other scientists.” Lastly, some students appreciated the “real” nature of the scientists they follow as well as their discoveries. In one student’s words, “Real people that know a lot about science get to share it with you.”

Expanded audience

Whenever I tweet something about science it can go to anyone that is outside of my class or even across the world. (Eighth-grade student)

The second objective was to enable students to interact and share perspectives with others outside of their specific class. Ninety-three percent of students surveyed agreed or strongly agreed that using Twitter enables them to interact and share perspectives with other outside of their specific class. Some students considered the potential global nature of their audience, while others recognized, quantita- tively, the difference between their in-class voice and their Twitter voice. One student explained, “I have as many as 52 followers on Twitter opposed to around 18 fellow classmates. When I have something important to share about science I like, as many as 52 people can see what I tweet instantly!” Some students even use their Twitter audience for academic support specifically. In one student’s words, “I talk over Twitter with other students about their projects and ask for help if I need help.” Overall, students recognize and appreciate the expanded audience Twitter affords.

Connections to personal lives and interests

It allows me to look at things that I like that are related to science. (Eighth-grade student)

The third objective was to help students make connections between science and their own lives and interests. Ninety percent of students surveyed agreed or strongly agreed that using Twitter helps them make connections between science and their own lives and interests. Many students validated this objective with statements such as “Twitter has made me think about things that I like and had me think about the science related to them,” and “If I ever see that someone tweeted about something that I use everyday I think ‘Wow that is really cool.'” Many students also shared that Twitter has caused them to consider new ideas and to develop new interests. In their words, “I think Twitter is cool because you get to see stuff about science that you’ve never seen before,” “I have learned a lot about other places and other species using Twitter,” “It allows me to learn about science that I would normally not look for,” and “I can follow things in our world that I didn’t even know about.” With guidance, students can realize the power of Twitter as both a vehicle to connect science to their lives and current interests and, potentially, as a rich source of new curiosities and passions.

New ways to communicate science

Twitter has helped me think bigger about science. (Eighth-grade student)

Ryan’s fourth and final objective in using Twitter was to encourage his students and himself to think creatively about how to communicate science in new ways. Eighty- one percent of students surveyed agreed or strongly agreed that using Twitter helps them think creatively about new ways that science can be communicated. Students offered diverse perspectives on this statement. Some students appreciated the ability to use such a con- temporary tool in class. “It was a clever idea, because it puts a modern day website that kids might be using anyway and turned it in to a school activity.” Other students recognized that Twitter shares science in different forms (i.e., links, pictures, videos). “Every amazing photo or video I find on Twitter makes me more and more interested. And I’m learning more about science every time,” and “Since people tweet and share videos and pictures, I can learn what certain things do, and why they happen.” Other students recognized the on-demand nature of Twitter. In one student’s words, “I think that Twitter is a way to stay connected with science almost wherever you go.” With increased familiarity using Twitter, as well as a deeper understanding of the networking features and capabilities of Twitter, students will likely develop an even greater appreciation for how it can be leveraged to crea- tively share science.

Challenges for teachers

Like any new initiative, especially one involving technology, the path to implementing Twitter in a middle level classroom is not without challenges. Students in Ryan’s classes have now used Twitter for parts of three separate academic years. In each year, several challenges have been noteworthy.

Ryan’s greatest challenge has been guiding students through the setup of their Twitter accounts. He mistakenly believed that once they had access to the Twitter site (i.e., it was not blocked by the school’s Internet filter), the setup process would be straightforward. However, for a majority of classes, the actual Twitter site proved to be the weakest link. Each year, in each class, a surprising number of students were initially unable to complete the account setup process during class. These students received a message from Twitter stating that their request could not be completed and that they should try again later. Because Twitter does not have live support, there is no way to get immediate help. This presents a host of issues, as once students have formally set up their accounts they typically need significant guidance regarding who to follow and how to set up various account settings. Ultimately, many students have had to set up their accounts outside of class. Ryan then collects their account setup sheets (containing their usernames and passwords) and logs into their accounts to ensure proper setup. In schools fortunate to have a technology integration specialist or a related posi- tion, teachers can capitalize on the support of another capable adult in the building to help manage this process.

A second challenge has been finding the time within classes to guide students in how to use Twitter, to set and practice norms and expectations regarding personal conduct in this new virtual space, and to gather student feedback regarding their perceptions, experiences, and questions. In Ryan’s experience, most students have not had prior experience with Twitter. Therefore, students need guidance and support as they explore all aspects of its use, including basics such as how to structure a tweet, how to assess the accuracy and reliability of content, and how tweeting differs from emailing, texting, and posting to Facebook. The finicky nature of technology (e.g., reli- able Internet access, bandwidth, individual student net- book issues, etc.) further draws from the finite class time that all teachers must budget. Furthermore, as he has become more comfortable using Twitter in the classroom, Ryan has invited students to use it in different ways. This process of exploration, of course, necessitates the use of class time. As is so often the case, there rarely feels like enough time to do everything that needs to be done and, importantly, to do it well.

A third challenge in facilitating middle level students’ use of Twitter has been managing students’ encounters with objectionable material. This material has primarily consisted of the occasional presence of profanity in tweets and sexually suggestive follower requests (particularly upon account setup, despite “protected account” status). To his knowledge, students with whom Ryan has worked with have never shared offensive content or generated an offensive tweet. As he shares with students, these encounters are an unfortunate downside of using a truly global, “open” networking tool like Twitter. In an effort to process and make meaning out of these encounters, Ryan encourages students to communicate with him about instances in which they encounter offensive content and they use these instances as authentic opportunities to discuss digital citizenship and healthy decision making.

Despite the challenges described above, Ryan and the students have found the benefits of Twitter outweigh the drawbacks. In an age where media is constantly competing for students’ attention, and where messages in popular media are often at odds with in-school norms and expectations, opportunities to model, discuss, and practice the appropriate use of Web 2.0 technologies is critical. Furthermore, because these opportunities arise in the context of an academic setting, students are not simply told what not to do. Instead, the focus of the experience is on how Twitter can be leveraged to realize meaningful connections to science via reputable, trusted sources. These opportunities for discussion, embedded within the positive context of using Twitter for learning, are both healthy and necessary.


From a pedagogical standpoint, Twitter can enhance a personalized and relevant curriculum, serve as a formative assessment tool, provide an authentic audience, and embed literacy tasks in a science class. While these were described within the context of a science class, Twitter has utility across subject areas and potential applications limited only by an educator’s imagination. For teachers con- sidering using Twitter in their classrooms, we offer several recommendations.

Engaging outside stakeholders

First, because Twitter fundamentally challenges traditional understandings of the roles of teachers and learners, as well as dramatically expands the classroom, the support of one’s principal or building leader, as well as the technology integration specialist (or equivalent), is critical. In addition to helping students gain access to Twitter (if blocked) and navigating school or district Acceptable Use policies, these individuals can also act as knowledgeable and invested stakeholders, and a support network to consult when encountering unexpected challenges. Second, because the use of open forms of social media in school falls outside of most parents’ conceptions of and personal experiences in school, communicating openly with families from the beginning is essential. Explaining objectives and asking for parental permission and feedback prior to students setting up accounts is an important step. All parents should have the option to opt out of their children using Twitter. In Ryan’s classroom, parents/guardians whose children do set up accounts (the vast majority) are encouraged to follow both their children and him.

Engaging inside stakeholders

In addition to consulting outside stakeholders, we suggest teachers themselves become as familiar as possible with Twitter prior to facilitating students’ use of it. Twitter can function as the primary tool in a teacher’s own personal learning network (PLN) and, as such, can not only expand one’s PLN but also help to familiarize oneself with Twitter and its many potential applications. It is also recommended to include students as much as possible in the development and implementation of any initiative related to Twitter. Because student learning is the primary reason for using Twitter in the classroom, it is essential to use their feedback and opinions throughout the process. A student pilot group, for example, can brainstorm potential uses, test the account setup process, and discuss norms and expectations. It is also recommended to start slowly and use the restrictive measures Twitter offers. Joining Twitter truly is joining a global community and doing so comes with the usual perils associated with the Internet. Student privacy and safety must be a priority. Begin with protected accounts, which require students to approve follower requests. Teachers might also consider requiring students to develop Twitter names and handles unrelated to their real names and be taught to refrain from includ- ing their likeness, or those of their peers, in any of their tweets. Ryan asks students to create Twitter names and handles related to science (e.g., the periodic table) and/ or areas of personal interest. This adds a layer of anon- ymity that may be beneficial from both a safety standpoint and a sharing standpoint. Regarding the latter, Ryan contends that students are willing to tweet more openly, and receive feedback on their tweets more constructively, when their actual names are not associated with their accounts. In this way, the focus is placed on what is tweeted and not the author of the tweet.


Twitter offers powerful, new opportunities for middle school students to share, interact, and explore—hallmarks of Web 2.0 technologies. The dynamic nature of Twitter not only leverages middle level learners’ innate social nature, but also provides teachers with a multi-dimensional, multimodal pedagogical tool whose benefits can be realized in real time. Moreover, each student’s experience is inherently personalized—from whom they follow to how they set up their profiles—and is influenced by the contributions of others throughout the world. Twitter therefore fundamentally challenges traditional paradigms of teacher, learner, and classroom. In a time when knowledge is so abundant, communication instantaneous, and digital literacy imperative, Twitter affords middle level students and teachers unique opportunities to model and practice authentic applications of an open social networking tool for learning.


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Is There Enough of You in Your Teaching?

Defining your classroom and inspiring students by honoring your own voice and interests

By: Carolyn Bunting

Is There Enough of You in Your Teaching?

As I look around the classroom, I’m reminded of all the things I like about teaching. Photographs feature our ongoing service project, and displays highlight our unit on globalism. I’ve also created a modest space that showcases me, where I inspire myself by sharing my interests with students. I feel at home in this room; I feel I’m where I belong, doing what I was called to do.

But for some years I was worn down as a teacher. The growing change and demands of the classroom left me feeling overwhelmed and unfulfilled. Finally, I decided to go back to my decision to teach and to the joy of the early years to figure out what I had lost along the way.

I started to look closely at my values and interests, my talents and goals. I began looking at how I related to others, how I used time, how I took care of myself (or didn’t), and whether or not I was making the best use of strengths I was rediscovering.

Change began when I decided to trust my instincts and intuitions in the classroom. Sometimes, it meant interrupting a lesson to take it an unexpected direction. Other times, it meant stopping everything to listen to students. Then there were the very interesting times when it meant contending with ideas that wandered into my head, intent on staying there until I found a place for them in my teaching.

I’m beginning to see that teaching for me is an inside-out process, thriving on internal hunches and urges that work their way out through my decisions and actions. Thinking back, this may have been true of my own best teachers who seemed to go beyond the advice of experts and the practices of colleagues to listen to something unique within themselves. Like these teachers, I want to hear my own voice and be free to honor it in my teaching.

Teaching has a personal face; teachers need to see themselves in the choices that define their classrooms.

You were privileged to personal faces in your own schooling. Perhaps you had an English teacher whose dramatic and practiced style left no doubt as to why literature required your time; or maybe a math teacher, able to bewitch by spectacularly unfolding precision logic on a daily basis; or a history teacher, gifted at engaging the imagination through stories.

These talented teachers had discovered a way to make teaching a reflection of themselves—an expression of what they believed in, what they enjoyed, and what they were good at doing. They were on a journey, and you, as their student, were privileged to travel along with them.

Giving the personal face life in the classroom is different for every teacher. As an instructional leader, I have experimented with ideas that accommodate these differences and have found two ideas that are practical and that succeed consistently.

Consider Why You Chose to Teach.
We begin with discussions about teaching—taking a look at the influence of our own teachers, considering our earliest attractions to teaching as a career, and recalling the immediate circumstances surrounding our decision to teach. We move on to identify our greatest strengths and talents, not only as teachers but as people. We reflect on past and current feelings of satisfaction in the classroom, and on events that precipitate those feelings. Throughout our discussions, conversation is focused on finding our most comfortable and rewarding space as teachers, a place we can call our own.

Teachers are encouraged to follow-up on discussions by doing something different in their classrooms to reinforce emerging strengths and motivations. The focus is on taking small steps in directions that hearten and inspire the teacher.

Periodically, teachers meet with other teachers to discuss what they are learning about themselves and how they are putting it to use in the classroom. Some keep journals on a continuing basis, while others find partners to talk with regularly. All are working to connect with their strengths and interests in a way that will pay off for their students and themselves.

Negotiate for Your Needs.
Bringing the personal face forward requires that teachers know how to negotiate for what they need. Whether it’s money to attend a conference or time to visit another classroom, teachers should be able to ask for what they need and be prepared to give something in return. This might mean sharing a professional skill or insight with other teachers, taking on a new responsibility, or using a special talent for the benefit of colleagues.

Negotiating and bartering are significant skills for teachers to master and practice. They are never taught in education courses or in workshops, but they can be learned in life and in the workplace. For teachers who want their classrooms to reflect a personal face—to be about who they are—the ability to bargain is critical.

Is there enough of you in your teaching? Possibly not. All too often the need to see yourself in your work is overshadowed by the lockstep of the latest new fix or the demands of the next new program.

Putting a personal face on teaching requires a different way; a way centered in who you are. It thrives on thinking and talking, receiving and giving back. It is independent of new programs, recycled reforms, big money, or debilitating pressures. It simply asks you to go inside yourself to find what you believe in, what you enjoy, and what you are good at doing.

Carolyn Bunting, a former teacher and public school administrator, and teacher of teachers, now writes about education. She is author of Getting Personal about Teaching, a small book of stories and reflections on teaching.


It’s Time to Go “Google”

Creating a school culture that champions innovation, rewards teamwork, and values feedback

By: Chris Iasiello


It’s Time to Go "Google"

As a building principal whose days are filled with countless observations, emails, and student interactions, it’s easy to forget that there really is a world outside of my wonderful middle school.

Over the last several years, I have been fortunate to have spent some time reading about and visiting some of the local companies in the New York City area that have been labeled as “the best companies to work for,” by the likes of notable publications such as Fortune and Forbes. What quickly becomes clear to any observer-manager is that these companies do more than just pay their employees well or offer them what used to be known as “fringe” benefits. Rather, companies like Google, who is consistently selected as periennal leader in the category of positive work environments, devotes a significant amount of time to developing a work culture where teamwork is valued over individual achievement and honest feedback is encouraged from every level of employee.

While schools would be hard-pressed to completely go “Google” with the likes of flexible working hours, endless amounts of free food, and a myriad of daily on-site services, they can still learn from the gains that these corporations have made in developing meaningful work environments. Over the last two years, I have implemented a few of the ideas modeled by our corporate friends and have strived to make my school’s culture as rewarding as those found in the private sector. My vision for a modernized school culture includes incentivizing innovative practice, rewarding teamwork, and developing multiple pathways for stakeholder feedback.

Incentivizing Innovative Practice

In the world of public education, the money teachers earn for their hard work is pretty much predetermined once they sign their first non-tenured contract. What I mean by this is, a teacher can look at a district’s pay guide and know just about how much they would make over the course of their careers give or take minimal contractual changes. So I decided to try something different and offered an annual recognition program for the most innovative educational practice in our building.

The initial proposal was a $500 award funded by our P.T.O. that, once issued, could be used in any way a teacher saw fit. By offering such a recognition process that focused on practice vs. selecting a person, I was able to decrease the politics of who would be recognized and placed the focus on the type of work our school valued and hoped to have replicated throughout our building.

A committee of teachers volunteered to sift through the applications and then happily evaluated three final presentations, as they helped decide which practice they themselves valued the most. The result of these presentations was a genuine sense of appreciation and pride for both their colleagues and the innovative work that, until our interviews, would not have been shared with other teachers.

While the committee spent much of their time together praising the work occuring in our building, they also discussed ways to include the ideas they had learned about in their own classrooms. The award winners also felt a tremendous sense of achievement as one happily shared, “I think the award was a wonderful opportunity to reflect on why we started something new in a school already known for its innovation. The process of writing the application helped us as colleagues have conversations about what we had done and how we structured our work. We also began to think about the improvements we would incorporate into it going forward,”said Laila Moolji social studies teacher.

By developing a culture that values exceptional work and fosters a school-wide appreciation for innovation a school commits to the mission of continuous growth and improvement.

Cultivate and Reward Teamwork

The concept of working as a team in education is not new, but it is a difficult approach to do well. My middle school has been lucky to have had teams in place for several decades and currently provides teachers with a daily set period to be used for either student-based discussions or grade level content meetings.

While this structure has provided teachers with a framework for working collaboratively, the peer-to-peer interactions are not always the best representations of the vision of good teamwork. What I have learned is that if schools truly want to develop a collaborative working culture, they need to find ways for their teaching staff to recognize and celebrate the work of colleagues.

At Google, a team member can give a bonus of $175 at any time without managerial approval. The former senior vice president of people operations at Google, Lazlo Bock, promoted the importance of this type of system in his bestselling book Work Rules (2015) stating, “Allowing people to reward one another facilitates a culture of recognition and service, and is a way to show employees that they should be thinking like owners rather than serfs.”

While this type of peer bonus structure would most likely not get approved by any school system, peer recognition should be an essential aspect of any institution that values and fosters teamwork. Rather than the unsustainable $175, I worked with my PTO president to secure a $5 Starbucks gift card for every staff member. We called the initiative, “Coffee on Me,” and told teachers to use it when they felt a colleague did something they identified as worth recognizing. The only stipulations for the program were that teachers could not use the card on themselves and that they would not be asked to share who it went to.

The response has been staggering. Teachers are often excited and proud to give this small token of appreciation to a colleague who has gone above and beyond while furthering a sense of team throughout the building.

Building Multiple Feedback Pathways

The most vital tenet of creating a successful school work environment is to ensure that feedback is continuous, structured, and unfiltered. All educational leaders need to ask themselves when seeking feedback: What do I want to hear vs. What do I need to hear?

In Adam Grant’s book, The Originals: How Non-Conformists Move the World (2016), Grant often shares anecdotes as to how and why some companies succeed and others fail. The one consistent determining factor for success found throughout his book is feedback. Successful companies like Google also know this to be true as employees can submit questions to their CEO and those questions that get asked the most are answered weekly in a live-streamed broadcast.

Yet, if you ask any school employee about how they feel about receiving feedback, most would give a half-hearted answer as people naturally want their opinions and ideas affirmed rather than critiqued. Surrounding oneself with opinions that favor similar thinking will only ensure an environment that is stagnant and not inclusive of all stakeholders. To avoid such an environment, I have created several different pathways to allow for both loyal supporters and much needed dissenters to provide crucial and critical feedback on initiatives as well as day-to-day operations.

To ensure our school captures all types of opinions, an IKE (short for Eisenhower M.S.) system was created in which all school community stakeholders can submit comments 24/7 using a Google Form that appears on our website. Stakeholders can choose to be anonymous or include contact information for future communication. IKEs are reviewed monthly with my team leaders and the group picks and chooses which items to act upon.

In addition, a principal survey process was initiated so all staff members are able to provide administrators with anonymous feedback relating to building leadership and operations. The results of the survey are shared school-wide so that a sense of transparency is created and staff can feel confident that their feedback was not only valued, but also acted upon for the betterment of our school environment.

The last pathway for collecting input is through a liaison teacher group that meets monthly. The only requirement for being a part of this group is that a teacher can not hold a current leadership position. This was done so that staff who may feel like their voice is not as important as those who work with the administration more closely could still have a seat at the table for helping to improve our building.

Developing multiple structures for collecting diverse forms of feedback has allowed our school to be able to address sometimes difficult or not spoken about challenges and has paved the way for developing a meaningful work culture where the only goal is improvement.

As you look for ways to move your school forward and to increase the meaningfulness of your work environment, look to those successes in the corporate world and develop a Google-like school culture where innovation is championed, teamwork rewarded, and feedback is valued. I would argue, it is time to go Google.

Chris Iasiello is principal of Eisenhower Middle School, Wyckoff, New Jersey. During his 8-year tenure he helped lead his school to being named a 2016 NJ School to Watch. His most important role is being the proud father of three girls ages 10, 9, and 7.

Blended Learning

Moving Beyond Tech-Rich Classrooms

By: Kristi McGrath Schmidt


Imagine being tasked with teaching a class of restless adolescents, all of whom have different learning styles, strengths, interests, and needs. Or perhaps this daunting scenario is not so farfetched at all.

A team of innovative teachers at Middletown Middle School (MMS) in Frederick County, Maryland, decided to try something vastly different in an attempt to increase student success in their classrooms: blended learning.

Blended learning is a personalized, competency-based learning experience including increased student control over the time, path, or place of learning. When combined with devices in a one-to-one classroom, this model can increase student achievement, empower students to take more ownership of their learning, and create efficiencies that allow teachers to reinvest time saved in their students.

These dedicated MMS teachers muddled through the reading, research, and planning necessary to make the shift, not simply to technology-rich classrooms, which they do in fact have, but they’ve made the full instructional shift necessary for authentic blended learning. They have read Blended by Michael Horn, Moonshots in Education by Esther Wojcicki, and Blended Learning in Action by Catlin Tucker. They have turned to the Internet, relying heavily on materials provided by the Christensen Institute. They have spent countless hours after school, late nights at home, and weekend afternoons next to the pool discussing how to leverage technology and personalize instruction to increase student achievement and close the achievement gap. They have sacrificed blood, toil, tears, and sweat as they were brutally reminded of the dreaded “implementation dip” common when one encounters an innovation that requires new skills and understandings. But these teachers persevered, knowing they were on the verge of a revolution. Before long, their efforts paid off. The positive impact on students is impossible to miss.

Two sixth grade language arts classes that meet simultaneously at MMS, populated with a high percentage of students with IEPs and 504s, are supported by two content teachers, Cindy Cregar and Sarah Harrison, and a special education teacher, Amy Newkirk. Two sixth grade mathematics classes that meet simultaneously, populated with many of the same students with IEPs and 504s, are supported by two content teachers, Meagan Byrd and Amy Clipp, and the same special educator, Amy Newkirk. These two teams of teachers work together to plan and facilitate a station rotation model of blended learning. Each week, they pre-assess their students and use the results to create personalized playlists that support each student’s learning as he or she rotates among various student-led, teacher-led, high-tech, and low-tech stations across two classrooms.

Initially, students moved through four stations, which these teachers coined Personalized Learning Time, Tech Time, Guided Instruction, and Collaboration. Sometimes the Personalized Learning Time was independent, but at times, it was collaborative. At times it involved technology, but at other times, it was more paper/pencil-based. Tech Time always involved technology, but these teachers felt strongly that the technology should always support new learning, not just reinforce past learning. Guided Instruction was always small group instruction with the teacher, in which she was better able to learn each student’s unique interests and needs because of the small group setting. The Collaboration station always involved students working together to complete a task, sometimes using high-tech, while other times using low-tech strategies. Initially, these stations were very rigid in terms of expectations and pacing, but students struggled. So, their teachers adapted. As Newkirk reflects, “When implementing blended learning, you have to follow the kids, not the model. Flexibility is key when responding to kids’ needs.” Now, particularly because so much of the complex reading and writing that must occur in language arts classes requires sustained, uninterrupted time, the stations have become more fluid. Sometimes they are 20 minutes each; sometimes, depending on the tasks, they are 40 minutes. The key is to be flexible and responsive to students’ needs.When asked what they think of blended learning, these sixth graders report:

  • “It gives us a chance to move around.”
  • “It lets us collaborate on our ideas.”
  • “I’m more in charge of my own learning.”
  • “It allows us to learn in different ways.”
  • “We’re doing something new every day.”
  • “It’s more challenging.”

Lesson planning is complex, as most stations have three levels of difficulty and digital resources to support the various needs and interests of students. At first, these five teachers spent hours scouring the Internet to find digital content and videos to support their curriculum. They would become frustrated when they would find a near-perfect video, only to find that it interchanged a key vocabulary term. So, rather than being at the mercy of what they could find on the Internet, Cregar, Harrison, Byrd, Clipp, and Newkirk began creating their own differentiated videos using free online video recording tools.

By incorporating and creating so much digital content, students have 24/7 access to learning materials. When students are stuck, instead of turning to their teachers for the answers, they have learned to use the resources at their fingertips to solve problems. As a result, the types of questions students are asking teachers has changed drastically. Instead of asking recall or surface level questions, students ask deeper, analytical questions, and they work alongside their teachers to solve complex problems and tasks.

It’s no secret that planning for blended learning is more time consuming and complex than traditional lesson planning. But the juice is worth the squeeze! Cregar explains how much more meaningful data analysis is. For the past few years, teachers at MMS, and many schools across America, have been asked to set Student Learning Objectives and use data to monitor students’ progress toward that goal. With more traditional, or linear, lesson planning, very little differentiation happens as a result of the data analysis. Teachers may create a differentiated lesson that offers two texts, one more complex than another, or they may offer extension activities for students who demonstrate mastery earlier. But in a traditional classroom, it is nearly impossible to differentiate to a level that meets every student’s needs. In a blended learning classroom, every station is differentiated. Personalized playlists are created to meet the needs of each student. Students have access to learning 24/7, and all of their learning resources are constantly at their fingertips. Technology is leveraged in a way that frees up the teacher to offer more small group and one-on-one instruction and opportunities for real-time feedback. In a blended learning classroom, data analysis becomes a natural part of the planning process, and the findings are used to personalize learning for every student in the room.

So, are there any other critical components for blended learning success? A supportive administration. Everett Warren, principal at MMS, has been a key player in their blended learning success. He purchased books so these teachers could participate in book studies about blended learning. He moved teachers’ classrooms so Cregar, Harrison, Byrd, and Clipp were physically near each other in the building, allowing them to easily “share” students. He arranged to have their electronic gradebooks merged, so all three teachers in each content area were the official teachers of record. He worked with central office staff to provide devices to every student. But most importantly, Warren approached these blended learning pioneers early to say that they had “the freedom to fail.” He knew that these teachers were dedicated, passionate professionals who would do everything in their power to increase student success, but he knew that the shift in instruction would be unconventional. He knew that these teachers needed the space, the freedom, and the permission to think outside of the box and learn what worked best both by extensive research and trial and error. Warren created the environment for success, and then stepped back, confident that these teachers would not settle for anything less than success.

This semester has been a journey of an educator’s lifetime, but Cregar, Harrison, Byrd, Clipp, and Newkirk now find themselves with more opportunities for small group instruction, one-on-one support, student choice, and development of 21st-century skills. The sixth graders at MMS, who often come to middle school with significant gaps in understanding and a heavy dependency on the teacher, are notably more engaged, autonomous, and successful.

Kristi McGrath Schmidt taught language arts at the middle school level before taking a position as the teacher specialist for secondary English/language arts in Frederick County, Maryland.


Google Can Do What? Five Activities to Engage Students

By: Matt Miller



Google Apps, now called G Suite, is really catching on in classrooms around the United States and beyond. But the way we think about its tools, such as Docs, Sheets, or Slides, is stuck in first gear.

It is easy for teachers to think of using these productivity suite tools in these ways:

  • I’ll have my students write essays in Docs.
  • We’ll create presentations in Slides.
  • We can crunch numbers and make charts in Sheets.

With effective collaborative and sharing functions in these tools, the classroom potential is much greater. It just takes a little experimentation and creativity to produce some really engaging activities.

Here are six creative uses of Google Apps / G Suite that extend beyond normal uses and expectations:

Collaborative Slides

The Slides app is a perfect place for students to work together in a collaborative space while still having their own little piece of real estate to do their work. Here’s how you can use Slides:

  • Create a new slide presentation with a slide for each student.
  • Share that presentation with students, either through Google Classroom or with a link, by clicking the “Share” button. Make sure to change the sharing settings to “Anyone with the link can edit.”
  • Have students find an empty slide and type in their name to create their work space.
  • Assign a task and students can write, add pictures, provide links, etc. on their slides.
  • When they are finished, the teacher can review what students have created by projecting their slides on a screen for all to view.
  • Have students look at each other’s slides and type comments, making their work a discussion and more like social media platforms that many are comfortable using. They can ask each other questions, provide additional details, or insert links to more information.


If you ever turned the corner of your notebook into an animation flip book, this experience is for you! We can create flip book/stop motion-style animation with Google Slides. This experience puts the power of animation into the hands of students, meaning that if they can visualize it in their minds, they can put it into motion on a screen.

Here’s how you can do it:

  • Students create a new slide presentation. Then, they design the scene they want to illustrate on the first slide.
  • Students then right click (Mac or Chromebook: two-finger tap) the slide thumbnail on the left and choose “Duplicate slide.”
  • On that duplicate, they move the parts they want to illustrate by using the arrow keys or mouse.
  • Repeat this “duplicate slide and move objects” process over and over until the animation is finished.
  • Upon completion, students can share their animation in full-screen. Flip through the slides
    very quickly with the space bar, down arrow, or right arrow to see the animation in action!

These animations can also be recorded in video. Just use a screencasting tool from the web or a program like Snagit to record those slides on your screen as you flip through them.

Examples of student work and additional resources include:

Interactive Posters

Almost all of us have completed a poster project at some point in our careers. Getting students to bring in poster board is a hassle, and so is cleaning up the mess of paper bits, glue, and glitter.

By using Google Drawings, a Google app that is like a virtual, digital poster board, we can kick up that poster project to the next level.

Here’s how you can do it:

  • Create a new Google Drawing by clicking the “New” button in Google Drive, then hover over the “More” selection to locate Google Drawings (or just go to www.drawings.google.com).
  • Create titles using text boxes and choosing from hundreds of fonts.
  • Pull in Creative Commons images (the types students have legal rights to use in their work!) by clicking Insert > Image … > Search.
  • Instead of listing a ton of information (which most posters do), make this digital poster an interactive multimedia poster by inserting links to videos, audio recordings, articles, Wikipedia entries, and more.
  • Have students share links to their Google Drawings interactive posters with classmates by posting them in Google Classroom or a TodaysMeet discussion room.

Use the following link to read a blog post about creating interactive posters (with an example!): www.ditchthattextbook.com/posters.

Photo Comic Strips

Make students the stars of their own comic strips by taking pictures with webcams on their devices! These comic strips can be created either with Google Slides (one frame per slide) or Google Drawings (put all frames on one canvas).

Here’s how you can do it:

  • Create a new Google Slides presentation or Google Drawing.
  • Click Insert > Image > Take a snapshot. Have students take a photo using their device webcams, and insert it into the slide presentation or drawing.
  • Students can resize the pictures and add more pictures. Use the shapes button (a button that looks like a circle and square on a computer or Chromebook, yet on an iPad choose “Insert”).
  • Insert speech bubbles and type in what the students in the photo are saying or insert thought bubbles. Students might also use arrows to point out important facts.
  • Repeat the process for as many new frames of the comic strip as you would like to include.

See examples and other ideas on Mike Petty’s photo comics site by going to www.ditchthattextbook.com/photocomics.

Choose Your Own Adventure Stories

I used to love Choose Your Own Adventure books as a kid. They are the kinds of books where you read a few pages and then choose the next step in the story by turning to a certain page. Google Slides is a great tool to create stories of your own!

Here’s how you can do it:

  • Create a Google Slides presentation. Write the first part of the story on one slide. Then give the reader options for where the story should go next, either in that same text box or by creating buttons with the shapes tool.
  • Create a new slide for each possible story choice. Write the next part of the story on separate slides. You can give the reader more choices for the next part of the story like you did in the first step above.
  • Repeat this process over and over to make the story as long as you’d like, yet keep in mind that the longer the story, the more complicated it is to keep all of the possible options straight. You might want to create a storyboard flow chart showing all of the options.
  • When you finish writing the story, link the slides together. On the first slide, highlight the text for one of the choices the reader can select. Use the link button and click “Slides in this presentation.” Choose the slide that corresponds to that choice. Repeat this process for all of the possible choices the reader can take.

Having a hard time picturing it? See an example by going to www.ditchthattextbook.com/choose.

Matt Miller is a blogger, speaker, and the author of Ditch That Textbook: Free Your Teaching and Revolutionize Your Classroom. A classroom veteran of more than a decade, he is a Google Certified Innovator and writes and speaks regularly on using Google tools in the classroom.


Distance Learning: The Wave of the Future

Students collaborate from afar using online tools.

By: Brian Cook, Kristi Schmidt, Katherine Shaffer

Distance Learning: The Wave of the Future

Geographically, it did not make sense. Middletown and Pocomoke Middle Schools, both located in Maryland, are approximately 200 miles away, and students in both classrooms were discussing the same piece of literature. Each student analyzed the author’s style and offered unique takeaways about attributes of the plot. However, there was not just one teacher facilitating the learning experience; instead, there were several teachers. The makeup of students available for partner discussions was also much more diverse than usual.

As a whole, students were experiencing a classroom activity of the future. Rather than hearing the command turn–and–talk with your partner and jotting down notes on a graphic organizer, there was the sound of headphones clicking into Chromebooks. Students began connecting with partners using email addresses while short repetitive jingles echoed throughout the classroom as students connected with eager faces as they appeared on the screens. Greetings were exchanged and instructions were provided from one instructor to students at both schools to open their shared Google Doc. Throughout the remainder of the lesson, students collaborated and kept track of their discussions to display mastery of the posted learning target.

This learning model, as narrated above, is often referred to as distance learning, where a class is broadcasted over the Internet without students needing to attend a physical class. Often found in higher education, attributes of distance learning were used in displaying mastery of Maryland’s College and Career-Ready (CCR) Standards as well as the Maryland State Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) Standards.

YouTube Video

AMLE talks to Cook, Schmidt, and Shaffer about Distance Learning
Taking into account the age appropriateness of middle school students, the distance model was modified to fit the needs of the students in these two classrooms. Rather than one educator instructing all students, each classroom site was equipped with at least one language arts content specialist, as well as additional school personnel members to assist with technological hurdles. In addition, each school site instructor modeled components of digital citizenship, speaking and listening standards, and ways an author develops point of view.

Authentic Learning Tasks

In education it has been a long held belief that an engaging activity draws excitement with endless opportunities while a disengaging activity produces routine results and minimal creativity.

In two digitally connected language arts classes, students were charged with reading and analyzing the intricacies of a short story with a digital partner who was assigned by their teacher. Over the course of seven 45–minute instructional days, students completed a close reading of a short literary text and discussed it with their digital partner via Google Hangout, an application similar to Skype or FaceTime.

Discussions with unfamiliar partners challenged students in new ways, yet provided opportunities to develop speaking and critical thinking skills. Over the course of one’s schooling in a small community, it is not uncommon to collaborate with the same students and become familiar with them. However, this was quite different because there were few, if any, expectancies.

Culminating Assessment

Two-voice poems, which are written for two people to perform, allow two different perspectives to examine the same topic. The poem is comprised of three columns (e.g., voice one, both, and voice two) to display the two different speakers’ dialogue as well as when the speakers are in unison. Purposefully, the poem is crafted to display characters’ internal thoughts—sometimes directly stated and other times inferred in the text—about the same topic.

At the conclusion of the close readings, students were paired together to display mastery of the point of view standard (RL6) by constructing their own two-voice poem. Individuals were given freedom of choice in selecting a topic as long as it related to the text. Teachers used theme resources and offered comments on digital collaboration documents to direct students to topics that were appropriate for the assignment. Once topics were selected, students were given two sessions to craft their poem and practice their presentations.

At the conclusion of the collaborative project, students performed their poems for both classes via Google Hangouts. During presentations, the remaining students evaluated the presentations using a student-friendly rubric created by the instructors using Google Forms. Each student evaluated the presentation for an in-depth character analysis (RL3) based on the two–voice dialogue, the alternative points of views (RL6) presented about the topic, and the presentation of relevant knowledge and ideas (SL4) from the text.

Student Reflections

Every student in the project divulged his or her satisfaction of working with a total stranger. Many admitted the mysteriousness of meeting someone new made them want to come to school every day. In addition, students revealed that they learned that different people have different perspectives about poetry, and people express themselves in many different ways. Poetry became one of their new ways to display an understanding of a challenging literary text, as well as appreciate multiple perspectives.

In regards to technology, students mastered working with Google Docs and Hangouts. Prior to the activity, students admitted to having minimal, if any, experiences collaborating with another person on an electronic document. This specific opportunity could be used in real-world tasks when colleagues need to communicate with one another. However, some students shared insights about frustrations as well. Internet connections were not always as immediate as a face-to-face conversation and transmission lags were not uncommon.

Teacher Reflection

This particular project was the epitome of integrating College and Career Ready experiences. Collaborating with others digitally is no longer trendy; instead, it is common practice during a variety of every day experiences. Working in pairs and teams to investigate a problem and create solutions is a skill essential to life as a middle school student as well as an adult.

The options are limitless for replicating or modifying the project to meet the needs and interests of your students. Creating two-voice poems was only the beginning for us and our students; the collaborative framework of using Google Hangouts and Docs can include numerous other content areas and different types of learning experiences.

Brian Cook, Ed.D., is an English/language arts teacher for Worcester County Public Schools in Pocomoke City, Maryland.

Kristi Schmidt is a teacher specialist for English/language arts 6–12 in Frederick County Public Schools in Frederick, Maryland.

Katherine Shaffer is a middle school language arts teacher for Frederick County Public Schools in Frederick, Maryland.


Classroom Tech for Learning Checks

By: Kristie Smith, Kristina N. Falbe


In its keys for educating young adolescents, AMLE calls for educators to use a variety of assessments in an effort to both advance and measure student learning. Daily, teachers are using assessment to guide instruction and to provide data about student achievement. In a teacher’s busy day of balancing teaching loads, meetings, and managerial tasks, it is sometimes difficult to provide students with timely feedback on assessments, yet tech for quick learning checks can assist.

Assessment technology has the capability of providing teachers and students with instant results and feedback.

Technology also has the power to increase engagement in the learning process. In order to connect with students, it is important for middle school teachers to find meaningful ways to incorporate elements of the outside world within the context of modern-day standards and curricula.

Why Technology?

Technology and digital resources are a part of the landscape of millennial life. According to the Partnership for 21st Century Learning, “to be effective in the 21st century, citizens and workers must be able to create, evaluate, and effectively utilize information, media, and technology.” Also, as Marc Prensky notes in Digital Natives, Digital Immigrants, “today’s learners have spent their entire lives surrounded by and using computers, video games, digital music players, video cams, cell phones, and all the other toys and tools of the digital age.” For many 21st century learners, it would seem that the use of technology is as natural as breathing, walking, text talk, or instantly posting one’s thoughts to social media.

Making Decisions about Classroom Technology

Technology and digital literacy are important facets of authentic learning, yet some teachers find themselves questioning the amount of technology that is appropriate in the classroom and the role tech tools should play in their students’ learning. Will these tools be supplements to a primarily hard copy, print-based lesson, or will teachers choose for tech tools to be constants that are integrated regularly into students’ learning cycles?

One way to respond to these questions is to focus in on key areas of learning that naturally align with the use of tech tools. Assessment—specifically formative assessment—is one such area of opportunity.

Tech Tools for Formative Assessment

In looking to incorporate tech tools for formative assessment, a number of questions will arise. Where does one find them? How does one choose them? Which ones are most effective? The truth is, there are endless digital tools available to the classroom teacher who is seeking to integrate technology and formative assessment. Many are user friendly. Many are free and easily accessible. Finding the right tools requires a combination of trial and error coupled with tuning into available resources and student needs.

Below are descriptions of a few formative assessment tech tool standouts that are especially classroom friendly for the middle grades classroom.

Kahoot is a game-based formative assessment tool. Its colorful graphics and playful music and sound effects make it a perfect choice to engage middle school learners. Teachers can load quizzes and invite students to join a virtual classroom using a game PIN. There are options for multiple-choice and other response formats. Data is collected on student responses and displayable in bar graph format after each question.

Plickers is another tool that classroom teachers can use for quick check formative assessments. Unlike Kahoot, Plickers does not require students to have their own devices. Rather, students have scannable response images that a teacher can access from a single device. Teachers tailor the formative assessments, launch them, and collect real time data that can transform instruction.

Today’s Meet
Today’s Meet is a back channel platform that teachers can use to allow students to ask questions and to carry on topic-specific discussions in the background of other learning. Teachers create a virtual chat room and allow students to sign in. The teacher can act as chat room moderator and participate in the back channel discussion. This is an effective tool to help teachers quickly respond to pop-up questions that students may have during a lesson. It is also useful for helping teachers to identify learning gaps sooner rather than later.

The Fear Factors
While there are many options for formative tech-based assessment tools in today’s middle school classroom, for some teachers there is still a lingering fear factor with the prospect of using tech tools.

Some teachers shy away from the use of technology because they worry about issues of equity—What if all students don’t have access? This is certainly a real issue. However, there are many options. In many cases, district, government, and private grants might be available toward the purchase of school-based digital devices. A little research in this direction could go a long way for the teacher seeking technology options. In some cases tech tools allow for multiple students to share one device, which can also help to alleviate concerns in this area.

Additionally, many teachers worry about how the use of tech tools can become a distraction for already highly distractible middle grades learners. While many of the Generation Z cohort are intimately familiar with the use of technology tools for recreational purposes, it takes the touch of the 21st century teacher to move this appreciation for technology’s possibilities into the classroom.

The Final Case for Tech

The goal of a relevant and integrative classroom is good teaching and engaged learning. Along the way, an effective teacher should check for progress and understanding as an indicator of instructional changes needed. There are many ways to do this, but using tech tools to do so is one way to reach the 21st century learner.


Prensky, M. (2001). Digital Natives, Digital (Digital Immigrants, Part 1) On The Horizon, 9(5), 1. doi:10.1108/10748120110424816.

Framework for 21st Century Learning–P21. (2015). Retrieved August 17, 2016, from http://www.p21.org/about-us/p21-framework.

Kristie Smith, Ph.D., is a literacy instructional specialist for Gwinnett county public schools in Gwinnett County, Georgia. She is also an adjunct professor for Mercer University’s Atlanta Tift College of Education.

Kristina N. Falbe, PH.D., is an instructor of middle grades education at Georgia College in Milledgeville, Georgia.


Talking Tech for the PBL Classroom

By: Kristie Smith


Project Based Learning (PBL) is an instructional model that encourages active participation of students throughout the learning process. The Buck Institute describes PBL as, “a teaching method in which students gain knowledge and skills by working for an extended period of time to investigate and respond to an authentic, engaging, and complex question, problem, or challenge” (http://www.bie.org/about/what_pbl).

As middle school teachers seek to create and facilitate meaningful learning experiences in all content areas through a lens of PBL, one of the recurring questions about implementation is, “What tools—specifically digital tools—are available, user-friendly, and effective for PBL learning experiences?”

There are many digital tools you might consider using! Due to the wide assortment that exists, it is recommended that you investigate and sample different options. As you analyze possible digital tools to use with middle grades students, consider the three Cs that are often associated with PBL: creativity, collaboration, and communication.

Using these attributes of PBL to inform your thinking may help you identify which digital tools are most useful and effective for the various PBL experiences in which you and your students are engaged.

Below are descriptions of several digital tools that teachers and students may use during PBL experiences that also reflect the characteristics of the three Cs.

Creativity and Communication Tools

One important piece of the PBL puzzle is the public presentation of student-created, unique products. Creativity and communication tools in PBL classrooms are those that allow for student expression of their projects, ideas, and products of PBL work. Many tech tools fall into the category of productivity or presentation tools. Here are a few notable mentions:

Prezi is a web-based presentation tool. It is a free and fairly easy-to-use tool for the presentation of written ideas, audio-visual products, and web-based creativity. Stocked with adjustable templates and the option for unique presentation building, Prezi is a digital tool for students seeking to showcase finished project work.

Google Slides
For classrooms that make use of Google tools, Google Slides are another creativity/presentation option for students engaged in PBL experiences. Similar to PowerPoint, Google Slides are web-based and allow for audio-visual imports and hyperlinks to other Google and web-based pages. Students can use Google Slides to present innovative products. It is also easily accessible on the web through a sign-in to Google Drive.

While Glogster requires a subscription, it is a web-based tool worth consideration. Students can gather evidence of their problem posing, research, planning, and unique product work and present it all for public viewing. Aside from the required subscription, Glogster is another easy-to-use creativity option.

Powtoons and Apple iMovie
For creativity products that involve video, options such as Powtoons and Apple iMovie (an app) are classroom-friendly. Powtoons is a free, web-based tool, wherein students can create their own cartoon-like video presentations. The final products are web-based, and can be easily paired with other presentation platforms such as Prezi or Google Slides. For Apple classrooms, iMovie could be a go-to for student-created audio-visuals. The trailer feature is a simple way for students to produce short, creative video spots.

Weebly is a free website-building option that students might use to create their own websites to showcase the questioning, research, and product components of their project work. Using a digital resource such as Weebly provides a certain real-world element to the PBL process—an important aspect of student work in the 21st century classroom.

Collaboration Tools

Throughout work sessions during the PBL process, students will need opportunities for collaboration. Creating such opportunities is essential to foster a supportive learning environment as well as scaffold the development of skills and dispositions of effective team members and leaders. It is important for students to have input and access to the problem-solving processes and product creation that is a part of PBL work in order for them to develop ownership of their work and their learning.

The following are some classroom-friendly options for collaboration:

Padlet is a digital bulletin board. In a brainstorm or idea sharing session, it is a quick and easy digital positing place. It can be open and accessible to all with a link. There are options for viewing and editing privileges. It has the capacity to hold words, images, audio, and video. There is also a moderator feature for organization and management.

With its virtual sticky-note format, StormBoard is another effective option to encourage collaboration, especially during brainstorming sessions in the PBL classroom. It is free, user-friendly, and web-based. Students can use it to organize ideas during any phase of the PBL process.

Google Docs
Google Docs are accessible on the web through a sign-in to Google Drive. They are easy to import from programs such as Microsoft Word and PowerPoint—two additional handy resources for PBL experiences. There are also Google Drive apps available for smartphones and tablets that help to promote collaboration in simple ways. For students who are reluctant to move away from computer-based programs and try web-based tools, Google Docs provides a perfect bridge.

The use of digital tools can serve as helpful scaffolds to support students’ adventures in problem solving, questioning, debating, experimenting, and creating on the road of exploration and discovery through PBL.

When thinking about and selecting tech tools for PBL or any teaching and learning framework, it is most important to keep students and learning outcomes as the central focus, integrating digital tools are ways to support and enhance the overall learning experiences of all middle grades students.

Kristie Smith, Ph.D., is a literacy instructional specialist for Gwinnett County Public Schools in Gwinnett County, GA. She is also an adjunct professor for Mercer University’s Atlanta Tift College of Education.


Enhance Your Web Browsing Experience!

By: Autumn DeGroot



As educators, we search for tools to improve efficiencies, increase engagement, and assist students in their learning processes. Working in a school that utilizes the Google Apps for Education suite, I discovered that Google Chrome contains a gold mine of tools to help meet these goals. Chrome is one of several popular modern web browsers, yet it feels like much more than a browser.

Features such as its robust app store, ability to log in to multiple devices, flexible options for working with tabs, and powerful Google Omnibox, all greatly enhance an otherwise basic web browsing experience. Chrome apps and extensions arguably contain some of the greatest features available to users, and their benefits in a classroom can seem unending.

Chrome apps can most concisely be described as robust websites. Examples of popular Chrome apps include Google Maps, Google Drive, Google Docs, Evernote, Kindle Cloud Reader, Desmos Graphing Calculator, MindMup, SoundCloud, Lucidchart, and Pixlr Editor. Apps run directly in the web browser, and generally do not require any download or installation, while Chrome extensions are small programs that change the way your browser functions, therefore they must be downloaded and installed on your web browser. This article will explain how using Chrome extensions can change the way you interact with Google Chrome as you use the internet.

What are Chrome extensions?

Chrome extensions are small programs added to the toolbar of your Chrome Web Browser upon installation. Once enabled, extensions alter the functionality of your web browser to perform a specific task. The functionality of most extensions applies to all websites that you visit within Google Chrome, rather than being specific to one particular site. Chrome extensions are continually being developed and added to the Chrome Web Store, and can be helpful to both teachers and students in many ways. This article focuses on a few categories of extensions that could be immediately implemented. Categories are presented with a brief idea for use, followed by a few key features of each extension.

Screen Captures / Screencasting

Useful for creating instructional documentation or videos.


  • Capture all or part of your Google Chrome screen as an image.
  • Download the images directly to your computer, or automatically synchronize to a Google Drive folder.
  • Record screencast videos of any actions within the Chrome browser, including voice recording.

Awesome Screenshot
Capture all or part of your Google Chrome screen as an image.

  • Enhance screen captures with callouts to identify specific information, add text, or blur sensitive information.
  • Download the images to your computer or save to a Google Drive account.

Comfortable Reading

Effective for presenting articles to a group or assisting distracted readers.


  • Make web pages clean and easy to read by removing all excess clutter (such as advertisements, unrelated photos, and links).
  • Save cleaned articles to read later.

Manage Tabs

Ideal for those who are known to have too many tabs open at once.

The Great Suspender

  • “Suspends” any tabs that have been unused for longer than an hour, freeing up system resources (suspended tabs remain open in the browser window, but appear greyed out).
  • Time limit and list of suspendable websites are customizable.


  • With a single click, condense all open tabs into one web page as individual links.
  • Restore all tabs at once or reopen each tab individually as needed.
  • Dramatically reduces system resource use and improves battery life.

Avoid Distractions

Helpful for blocking distracting websites and reducing off-task work.

Strict Workflow

  • Locks distracting websites for a specified amount of time.
  • Audible alarm rings when time has expired.

Grammar and Vocabulary

Beneficial for reinforcing classroom grammar instruction and encouraging expanded vocabulary.


  • Checks grammar and spelling while you type.
  • Works all over the web, including social media websites.

Google Dictionary

  • Quickly look up definitions by double-clicking on words in Google Chrome.
  • Additional information is available by clicking on the link beneath the definition.

Searching, Citing, and More…

Search by Image (by Google)
Want to know more about an image you found online?

  • Right-click (control-click) on an image in Chrome and select “Search Google with this image.”
  • Searches the internet for information related to the selected image.

Google Translate
Translate web pages. Although this will produce the common translation errors of any automated tool, it could present possibilities in a classroom setting; consider accessing authentic resources from a different country!

  • Quickly access Google Translate with the click of a button.
  • Translate highlighted text from one language to another.
  • Language settings are customizable.

If you are ready to give it a try, follow these simple steps from your Google Chrome browser:

  • Go to the Chrome Web Store (https://chrome.google.com/webstore).
  • Search for the name of an extension by typing in the “Search the store” box.
  • Select the “Extensions” category to narrow the results to only Chrome extensions.

Feeling adventurous and want to discover more? Skip step #2 from above and browse through the numerous Chrome extensions available. This article presents only the tip of the iceberg and you will certainly gain new ideas from the Web Store categories, including: Editor’s Picks, Productivity, Everyday Extensions, Writing Essentials, Hold that Thought, Get Organized, and more. If you become attached to your Chrome extensions, you’ll never have to worry about losing them when you work from a different laptop or desktop computer. Simply sign into the Google Chrome web browser on any computer and your extensions will automatically appear (along with any bookmarks, themes, or apps you have installed.) Explore, examine, and discover the Chrome extensions that work best for you and your students. You will begin to enjoy a customized and powerful web browsing experience before you know it!

Autumn DeGroot is a technology integrator for grades 6-12 at University Liggett School in Grosse Pointe Woods, MI.

The Role of Learning Management Systems in Middle Schools

How an LMS supports learning, communication, and collaboration

By: Kelly Backenstoe, Kimberley Krempasky


The Role of Learning Management Systems in Middle Schools

Schools are incessantly faced with implementing new initiatives and programs. Clickers in the classroom! Use cell phones! One-to-one laptops! Online textbooks! Communicate with parents digitally! The list is endless and the pressure to keep up with ever-evolving technology is constant. Sometimes educators have trouble keeping up with the latest technology as schools have a combination of digital natives and digital immigrants teaching classes.

What if there were ways to manage it all? Technology’s latest solution for this issue is the learning management system (LMS). While universities have been using learning management systems for years, they are now being brought into K-12 education.

Why the need for an LMS?

Teachers are always trying to meet the needs of their students, yet many classrooms have students with varied reading levels from second grade to twelfth grade. How can a teacher help each student be successful in the classroom?

Through an LMS, the need for one system to accommodate all learning styles and levels can be met. Teachers can organize their classes and post different documents, assignments, tests, etc. for their students to work on without the students knowing they are receiving something that has been specifically developed for their own level.

Many schools are also trying to streamline courses taught by different teachers through common lessons and assessments. With an LMS, teachers can collaborate on lessons, activities, and assessments, and share these activities with ease. Groups can be created on the LMS for teachers to share resources with specific colleagues.


For teachers, an LMS has many benefits in middle level education. It is an organizational hub for teachers to upload everything they do in the classroom for students. Gone are the days when students had to get paper copies of their absent work; now teachers post worksheets, links, videos, and other resources on the LMS for students to access at home and at school. Submissions of worksheets, tests, quizzes, as well as the grades of these assignments are saved in the LMS. Tracking student progress, attendance, and class content is in one location. What could be better?

The latest movements in technology education are supported since blended learning and flipped classrooms can be created and posted in the LMS. Additionally, as activities and courses are developed on the LMS, they can be archived to be used the following year.

With an LMS communication increases. Groups are developed within the system for sharing resources, sending messages, and connecting with staff and students. Club teachers can have separate groups where information is easily distributed and visible to the members of the club. Administration can post quick messages and instructions and celebrate successes on the LMS, where staff can view the information with ease—and without crowding email inboxes. Moreover, educators have the ability to join community groups, connect with other educators, post questions, and learn from others outside the school community.


As for student benefits, most students are attracted to technology outside school; therefore, the LMS is perfect. Teachers can load educational apps on the LMS to assist students in remediation and review. Students can also add the app from the LMS to be notified when their teacher added something to the course or sent a class message. There is also a built-in reward system in which teachers can give badges to students for good attendance, participation, etc. to reinforce positive behaviors.

Students have the opportunity to communicate with their teachers via the messaging system the LMS has to offer, and they can post questions for their instructor or fellow classmates to answer. Also, the calendar in the LMS will help students get organized, as teachers post upcoming tests and assignments, and club directors post upcoming events. Students learn how to advocate for themselves, feel more comfortable communicating with their teacher, and take responsibility for their progress, as they take more control of their learning.

Class participation and collaborative work increases through the use of discussion boards on the LMS. How many students typically participate in a regular classroom debate? Through the LMS, all students can debate via the discussion boards. Students learn how to communicate in the discussions in an appropriate manner—with scholarly thought—as they type their responses. The discussions allow students to read what all of their classmates think and respond with counter arguments.


What does every parent want from their child’s school? Communication. Through the LMS, parents can view their child’s courses and everything their teachers post. Parents can stay up to date on their child’s assignments by viewing the calendar. Parents can see the work their child is completing on a daily basis in addition to graded tests and quizzes.

Having their child’s course content, calendar, grades, and attendance summary in one location fulfills most parent questions, thus lessening the amount of explanatory emails teachers need to reply to. Parents can hold their child accountable at home and supervise their work completion without being a nag.

How it promotes effective middle level education

Middle level students are a unique group of individuals. Some students know how to organize their materials and some students need a new worksheet every day. With the LMS, class materials are organized in one space. Additionally, some middle level students need help knowing how to manage an assignment book. Through the LMS, students can check to see the assignments teachers post.

The LMS is a great system for students as it allows parents and teachers to release responsibility to the students in a way that holds them accountable but supports them by giving them a hub to refer to. Parents are kept in the loop on each class and they are able to transition into a more hands-off parenting role as their child takes the driver’s seat.


Through the LMS, we have organized our class pages for students’ ease of use. Here is a description of what a typical class period looks like:

Students arrive in the classroom and immediately login to their devices to access the LMS Class page. They look at the calendar on the class page and see if they have any homework or upcoming tests. Students who were absent, look at the Absent Work folder and note what they have to make up from the days they were absent. Next, the teacher directs the class to updates on the class page. The folders on the class page are organized by Marking Period. Unit folders are placed inside the Marking Period folders. The teacher directs the students to a new folder that was added called, “Studying Materials for the Test.” Inside this folder are resources students can use to study for the test. Next, the teacher directs students to a formative assessment in the LMS. The students take the formative assessment and the teacher receives instant feedback from their scores. The teacher is given immediate information including how many students answered each question correct to determine what content needs to be retaught and who the students are that need to be remediated. The rest of the period is spent reviewing the formative assessment and the teacher offers remediation techniques.

As with all new initiatives, teachers need to use the LMS and feel comfortable implementing it in their classrooms, or it will not have the impact it should on students. When our school decided to begin using the LMS, it was rolled out to staff and students in the first year. The goal of the first year was to use each feature at least one time. Features like assigning a test, a discussion, a web link, or a written assignment were administration’s goals for teachers’ class pages.

While some teachers were excited to dive right in, other teachers were apprehensive because they did not know how the features worked. How well teachers accepted the LMS matched their comfort with using technology in general. Now that we are in our second year of using an LMS, training sessions presented to staff about how to effectively use an LMS in the classroom have proved successful as most teachers use the LMS daily.

Teachers are lifelong learners, and there is always something to learn about the features in the LMS. At times, we have made mistakes implementing the features, however, learning occurs with every mistake made along the way.

Kelly Backenstoe and Kimberly Krempasky are seventh grade social studies teachers in the Northampton Area School District (PA). The district is currently implementing a Learning Management System with the use of one-to-one laptops.

Check out this article on edudemic.com on learning management systems for education:
Understanding the Top Learning Management Systems

8 Digital Formative Assessment Tools to Improve Motivation

By: Bryan R. Drost





The silver bullet for closing the achievement gap these days seems to be formative assessment. In simple terms, formative assessment is any ongoing activity that helps teachers gain information about student learning—information they can then use to adjust their instruction and provide more specific feedback to students who are then motivated to reach their learning goals.

Although the definition is relatively simple, the complexity in practice is challenging—good formative assessments provide feedback, are motivating, allow for instructional adjustment, and are ongoing. That’s a lot for any classroom teacher to do and to do well amidst the chaos of a room full of seventh graders during the month of May.

Digital formative assessment tools can help you motivate students to practice learning goals as a natural and ongoing part of their daily workflow.

Here are eight free tools to help you integrate technology into your classroom, motivate students to learn, collect some data, and reduce your Tylenol consumption bills during spring—or for that matter, throughout the school year! For step-by-step how-tos for integrating each of the different tools into your curriculum, visit https://goo.gl/jpmele.

Tool 1: Padlet

Padlet (padlet.com) is a virtual wall that students use to express their thoughts on a topic. In addition to written expression, you can embed audio and video and have students respond in the form of a threaded discussion. With password protection, you can use different padlets for different classes or groups of students.

For example, I have students define key terms and discuss areas of agreement and disagreement with what their peers have written.

Tool 2: Recap

Recap (https://app.letsrecap.com) is a video-based formative assessment tool that allows you to pose a question, have students respond with a short video they’ve recorded on their cell phone, then provide them with feedback.

In the math classroom, have students explain how to solve a problem and then give them strategies they can use to improve their accuracy. Or if you are feeling a little daring, share the class videos and have students identify incorrect answers and analyze where the computations went wrong.

Tool 3: Today’s Meet

Today’s Meet (https://todaysmeet.com) is a type of “backchanneling.” Backchanneling is a conversation that takes place alongside an activity or event. It’s perfect for use in the classroom when you are showing a video and want to find out what the students are thinking. Simply show the class a video clip and have students respond to a question via their device; students can even pose questions to you as they are watching.

Use it in the science classroom as a way to track understanding during a lab procedure. For example, ask students what will happen before they add chemical A to chemical B.

Tool 4: Active Prompt

Active Prompt (http://activeprompt.org) looks like a website from the early 1990s, but its power is amazing. Upload any image of your choosing and ask students a question about it. Students move a dot on their device to indicate their answer.

For example, in social studies, you might show a map of Africa and ask students where they think the Nile River is. In language arts, display a complex text and have students indicate where they found their textual evidence.

Tool 5: Google Forms/Sheets and Flubaroo

Flubaroo (www.flubaroo.com) is a great plug-in for Google Sheets that will help you quickly score student quizzes. Design a Google Form, share the link to the form with students, and have them answer the questions. When they are finished, go into your account and have Flubaroo grade students’ responses in less than a minute. Use the report feature to get all kinds of quick data about the students’ responses.

In the classroom, use this as a quick warm up and then break students up into stations with differentiated activities based on performance.

Tool 6: Zaption

Zaption (http://zaption.com) allows you to take already-made videos, such as a YouTube clip, or your own videos, and publish interactive lessons and track student understanding.

Simply add questions to a video clip: multiple choice, check boxes, free response. You might even have kids draw a response. If you’re doing a whole-class lesson, you can use the Live mode so students can ask you questions while you are presenting. Want students to complete independently? No problem! Give students a link.

Use the reporting feature to analyze the data and find out where you are headed next in your lesson. (Please note that the free account gives you a limited number of reports.) You can also use Zaption’s database to find premade lessons.

Tool 7: Nearpod and Pear Deck

Nearpod (www.nearpod.com) and Pear Deck (www.peardeck.com) are similar tools that allow you to embed interactive formative assessment elements into a slide deck. Take an existing PowerPoint, Keynote, or Google Slide show and add upload it to the app. Give students the link—from your end, you can ensure that all students are on the same slide. In Pear Deck, you can even add a question on the fly. Question types range from drawing answers to multiple choice (the paid app gives you a few more choices).

Want to increase student involvement? Have them create the slideshow on a topic (a great review for final summative exams) and present to the class. You can use the data reports to track student mastery.

In PE, try uploading the steps to throwing a perfect curve ball. As students watch each step, ask them to demonstrate the step, then use the questions you’ve created to get their thoughts about the technique and why it will improve their pitch.

Tool 8: Quizlet Live

Teaching vocabulary? Using Quizlet Live (http://quizlet.live), students practice teamwork and communication skills while you check their understanding of important academic vocabulary.

Simply create an account, search for a premade deck of vocabulary terms or create your own (a minimum of 12), and give students the link. The app will group them into teams once they have logged in. Press “go” and the teams will compete to show their understanding of new terms. Students must be careful, as one wrong move sends them back to the beginning.

Fun and Informative

In my own practice as a teacher and curriculum director, I have seen the power that formative assessment can bring to improving student success in the classroom. Using digital tools such as these not only motivates students, it also gives teachers valuable information with which to diagnose student learning.

While I can’t promise you that these digital formative assessment tools will close the achievement gap entirely, I can promise that you will have fun interacting with your students.

Bryan R. Drost is director of educational services for Firelands Local Schools in Ohio.

From Tech Meek To Tech Geek

By: Amanda Kline


From Tech Meek To Tech Geek

I must be honest with you. With the surge of technology resources that I am being asked to use within the classroom, I feel far from confident in my abilities. I am inclined to blame my ignorance on the fact that I was not born into the technology craze and did not have a cell phone even when I went to college. I still don’t have a cell phone that takes “selfies.”

But how would this excuse help me be a better teacher? The harsh reality is that it won’t. I can either continue with my “tech meekness” and go the way of the dinosaurs (and we all know what happened to them) or move forward in learning what these technology resources are all about. I choose the latter.

Step 1. DIY: Do It Yourself

I quickly learned that if I was serious about learning the new technology, I had to stop asking others to do it for me. It’s hard to give up that crutch. For example, I had to figure out how to sync my new wireless printer/scanner/copier to my computer.

Step 2. Set Timeline Goals

Sitting in a technology training session at the beginning of the year, I felt bulldozed by the dozens of technology resources I was expected to use immediately. I didn’t even know how to turn on my iPad, but once my panic attack subsided, I vowed to organize this “technology mess.”

I decided that the best way for me to learn about technology resources was to focus on understanding one program or app per month so that by the end of the year, I would be fluent with nine different technology tools. By taking a month’s time to really study the resource, I could apply it in the classroom effectively

Step 3. “Help Me, Obi-Wan-Kenobi; You’re My Only Hope”

One of the most humbling experiences for teachers is admitting they don’t know everything and must ask for help. Once I had a guiding plan of what and when to learn, my next step was to find the person to teach me how to do it.

I, who learn best with hands-on and one-on-one tutoring, found an amazing colleague with infinite patience who was willing to work with me during this learning process. Before school, after school, during lunch—my mentor was available for “tutoring” time. That great collaboration continues to this day.

Step 4. Start Small

As I worked on my monthly tech goals, I started integrating them into my teaching in small doses. Something as simple as learning how to send an email from my iPad to my home computer was a major victory. Taking notes from a faculty meeting using Google Docs made me feel triumphant. Loading a lesson plan onto Google Drive was rewarding.

These may seem like minor victories, but I felt like I was finally thriving with my technology.

Step 5. Keep Going

As my confidence grew I began to use more technology in my classroom. For example, instead of having the students do hand-written performance evaluations, I had them complete Google Forms.

When I asked my students which way they preferred to complete assignments—with or without technology—they unanimously agreed that the technology resource helped them organize their thoughts better. Many students were critiquing their work, justifying their opinions, and sharing more details more often and more effectively than in previous handwritten hard-copy assignments.

So maybe I haven’t become a full-fledged “tech geek,” but I know that as I continue to learn, I can provide a better education for my students.

Photo credit: iStock.com/skodonnell

Amanda Kline is a 10+ year veteran instrumental music teacher at Boonsboro Middle School in Washington County, Maryland.


Going Online to Improve Student Achievement

Leveraging technology helped get students back into class and on track.

By: Mary Slaughter, Connie Shubert, Brenda Dix


Going Online to Improve Student Achievement

In a perfect world, school districts would be able to purchase and implement as many resources and as much technology as necessary to help students achieve. However, factors such as budgets and staffing often get in the way.

When we looked at how we could improve student achievement and graduation rates at Walker County Board of Education in Jasper, Alabama, we faced some tough obstacles. Our district serves 7,800 students, 65% of whom are eligible for free and reduced-price lunch. We suffered from attendance and truancy issues. Our graduation rate for the 2010–2011 school year was 73%, which is only slightly ahead of the state average, and our dropout rate was 14%, which is 6% higher than the state average.

Although graduation and dropout rates do not directly apply to middle school students, it is an indicator that our students were struggling—and they were most likely struggling prior to entering high school.

So when the state’s top education official urged districts to rethink school programming and initiatives to include more innovative approaches to supporting student achievement, our district officials knew we had to reinvigorate academic programming to help our struggling students.

Supporting Struggling Students

We began by transforming academics in our alternative school for middle and high school students whose behavioral issues prevent them from succeeding in a traditional classroom. The goal of the program was to provide additional supports for these students so they can overcome their behavioral issues and return to their original schools.

However, the alternative school was overcrowded and not working as effectively as we had hoped. Students entering the alternative program almost always had academic issues because their behavioral issues impeded their ability to learn. Students who were referred to the alternative school attended sporadically, usually three to five days; inadequate instruction and a lack of assignments and/or textbooks from their original schools caused them to fall even further behind academically during their short stay in the alternative program. When the home school sent assignments and textbooks to the alternative program, the distance and the time it
took to transport materials was also problematic.

This lack of instruction hindered students from successfully transitioning back to the original school and thus heightened their frustration level. Most students became repeat offenders and the cycle continued on a downward trend.

Students need to feel successful in order to change their behavior, but as students returned to their original schools, transferring grades and records was fraught with miscommunications and staffing issues.

We decided to implement academic support and instruction that relied on more accessible resources instead of paper assignments and textbooks. We believed that the faster students improved behaviorally and academically, the sooner they could return to their original schools, which would solve our overcrowding issue. Also, the transfer of students’ records and grades would improve. The smoother we made reintegrating students into their original schools, the faster we could have them back in class and succeeding.

Turning Around the Alternative Program

For a fresh start, we changed the name of the alternative school to the “180 Program.” Beginning with the 2011–2012 school year, the students who entered the alternative program had 20 days to “do a 180” so they could succeed in their original schools. To help students do this, we created a more positive school environment and improved academic support.

Students in the 180 Program immediately start their coursework on the computers, catching up and sometimes accelerating.

Our first change was to switch from textbook-based instruction to an online blended learning instruction model to bypass the issue of students not having their textbooks or assignments. With this change, students now have access to a rigorous curriculum and quality instruction. The online instruction includes more than 160 courses, 5,600 lessons, 200,000 content pages, and 130,000 test items to measure student mastery of subjects in grades 1–12—all of which are aligned to state standards. In addition, the online instruction’s built-in assessment tool gauges where students are academically and then automatically adapts the courses’ learning paths to accommodate students’ skill levels.Students in the 180 Program immediately start their coursework on the computers. Catching up and even getting ahead in their courses while enrolled in the 180 Program is a reasonable expectation.

The online format also makes the transfer of grades and credits between schools easier, as everything is recorded and kept online. If there is ever a question about a student’s grade, the original school can cross-reference it with the online records.

Going Online Everywhere

After seeing how successful online instruction was in the 180 Program, we decided to expand its use to other students.

In our elementary and middle schools, we use the online instruction in blended learning centers to help small groups or individual students who are struggling with particular concepts. We also use it to introduce new concepts to entire classes.

At the high school level, students can take full online courses for regular credit or recover credits they are missing. We even use the courses for grade repair to help struggling students raise their grades and to avoid failing. High school students also are required to take the built-in benchmark assessment three times a year in order to track their improvement.

Our summer school program, which serves about 35–45 students in grades 5–12, uses the online instruction and assessments to help students make up coursework they previously failed or to get ahead for the coming year.

During the 2014 school year, we also used the online instruction to fuel the creation of new programs for older at-risk and credit-deficient high school students: the Hope Academy and the Twilight Knight School. The 42 students enrolled in the two programs during the 2014–2015 school year earned or recovered a total of 199 credits.

Seeing Results

Since the changes to the alternative school and the districtwide changes that followed, our overall achievement has improved tremendously. We have seen significant increases in attendance, grades, and the number of students being promoted to the next grade level.

For the 2013–2014 school, we saw a 14% increase in our graduation rate— jumping from 73% to 87%—and our dropout rate fell below the state average to only 3%. After the 2014–2015 school year, our graduation rate increased to 90%. These major achievements have even sparked us to start an additional evening program for students in the 11th grade who want to take extra classes to graduate early.

We adopted a program we used to make school easier for a very specific student population—students in grades 6–12 with behavioral issues—and applied it to students in grades 1–12 and saw amazing results across the board.

Mary Slaughter is the assessment and accountability, guidance counseling, Title IV, and Community Education Coordinator for Walker County Public Schools in Jasper, Alabama.

Connie Shubert and Brenda Dix are the federal programs financial coordinators for Walker County Public Schools in Jasper, Alabama.

Information Overload: Giving Students the Tools They Need to Navigate the Digital World

By: Suzanne Zimbler


Information Overload: Giving Students the Tools They Need to Navigate the Digital World

A few years ago, I wrote an article for students about the surprising amount of sugar that Americans eat. Toward the end of the article, after explaining how sugar is added to some foods you wouldn’t expect (crackers! tomato sauce!) and describing how consuming too much sugar can impact your health, I mentioned that some scientists had suggested a tax on heavily sweetened foods.

After the article was published, I received letters from several students. One stood out to me. “Dear Ms. Zimbler,” wrote a 12-year-old reader, “I saw what you wrote about how sugary foods should be taxed. I completely disagree with you.”

The comment showed that the student had made an effort to read critically. But it also revealed that she was confused: She had mistaken a point of view described in the article for my opinion.

By middle school, many students can distinguish between a straight news story and an opinion piece. But what about all the nonfiction texts in between? Feature stories, like the one I wrote about sugar, often highlight different perspectives on a topic. Sometimes, articles are written in an objective voice but only tell one side of the story. Identifying an author’s purpose can be a complicated task. It is also one that, in the age of social media and a 24-hour news cycle, has become critically important.

“We live at a time when students have more good credible information at their fingertips literally than at any other time in history,” says Alan Miller, president and CEO of the News Literacy Project. “At the same time, they’ve got exponentially more information at their fingertips that is not aimed at informing them in a dispassionate and truthful way, but is meant to sell them things, to persuade them, to incite them, [or] to mislead them.”

Miller’s organization works with teachers to build students’ critical thinking skills “so they know what to believe in a digital world.” With the help of the program, Angel Gonzalez, a teacher at De La Salle Academy in New York City, has integrated news literacy lessons into his seventh- and eighth-grade social studies classes.

Gonzalez has his students complete news journals for the articles they read. Students are asked to consider questions about the author’s purpose as well as the reliability and accuracy of the source. When students select an article for class, Gonzalez asks them, “Did you find something strong?”

The point of having students determine the author’s purpose, says Gonzalez, is not to suggest that opinion articles are not valuable, but to show students that it is important to be conscious of when a writer is advocating a certain perspective. As a culminating project, Gonzalez has students write a news article as well as an opinion piece on an issue they are interested in.

Julie Coiro, a professor who specializes in digital literacy at the University of Rhode Island School of Education, recommends thinking aloud in class as you evaluate sources of information. Modeling deep thinking about the credibility of the content and quality of the author’s claims, she says, is more effective than having students use a checklist of things to look for. “The checklist approach can lead to surface-level thinking,” she says.

When we launched TIME Edge, a new digital current events resource for middle schoolers, these issues were top of mind. We wanted to give readers the tools and information needed to form their own opinions on complex issues. Articles are paired with other texts that explore similar themes so students are exposed to more than one perspective. Close reading questions and prompts push students to read critically and to analyze the writer’s strategy.

Michael Spikes works with middle and high school teachers at the Center for News Literacy at Stony Brook University. He emphasizes the importance of directing students to take the time to evaluate the information they come across. “When you get a piece of information, before you jump to share it, before you jump to make a decision, slow down,” says Spikes. Giving students that awareness, he says, gets them started in the process of reading critically.

And that, says Miller, is a survival skill in the digital world.

Interested in integrating news literacy into your classroom? Check out these resources:

You can sign up for 60 days of free access to TIME Edge. See this sample news article and the corresponding opinion piece.

Teachers and students can access the content from the News Literacy Project’s new e-learning platform for free.

Find free lessons and resources from the News Literacy Center at Stony Brook University.

Suzanne Zimbler is the executive editor of TIME Edge, a digital current events resource for middle school students.

Creating Online Learning Environments

By: Erica Preswood


With a plethora of educational apps, websites, and digital learning tools flooding the educational technology market, it’s easy to feel overwhelmed and disoriented. To combat this sensation of drowning, teachers can anchor their classes and create community using a learner management system (LMS)—an online resource to organize and deliver course content digitally.

Learner management systems provide a cyber home for teachers and students. Just like a real home, an LMS serves many functions, from being a place of structure with online learning units and assessments to providing a meeting place with discussion boards and wiki projects.

An LMS allows teachers to streamline online learning for students: one website address, one set of login credentials, and one location to access class content. On a larger scale, schools and even districts can adopt an LMS organization-wide to further consolidate online learning for teachers, students, and parents.

With entire organizations using the same online platform, teachers and students can access all their classes using one interface. Teachers can collaborate by creating integrated units and sharing digital content across courses. Organizations can create and deliver benchmark assessments, surveys, and deliver important communications.

Many fee-based LMS providers exist; however, there also are several free learner management systems available to educators. There certainly is an LMS that meets the needs and matches the style of most educators, from beginning, novice digital users to advanced technology consumers.

Here are some examples of learner management systems.

Engrade is a sleek LMS that provides many tools within a simple platform, making it perfect for novice technology users. Within Engrade, teachers can create units complete with assignments, attached content files, links to web content, flashcards, wiki projects, drop boxes and assessments. Teachers can take attendance, create seating charts, record discipline, and create course calendars.

Haiku Learning
Haiku Learning is an intuitive online learning platform. This user-friendly LMS provides teachers with a versatile platform to create and deliver digital learning for their students. Similar to other LMS platforms, Haiku allows teachers to create units complete with assignments, attached content files, links to web content, wiki projects, drop boxes, and assessments.

Haiku also allows teachers to embed more than 200 web-based widgets. These include Coggle (a mind mapping tool), GeoGebra (math software), and gooru (standards-based lessons). In addition, Haiku provides teachers with powerful analytic reports for both assessments and overall site usage.

Another advantage of Haiku is the ability for teachers to share units and co-teach classes. Teachers can create integrated units, build a professional learning community, and consider vertical and horizontal alignment within schools and districts.

Overall, Haiku is a one-stop shop for educators with lesson planning, assessment, and communication tools all in one convenient place.

Edmodo is a dynamic learning platform that will enhance online learning. This LMS closely mirrors social media platforms and typically appeals to students.

A sophisticated platform, Edmodo offers the basic LMS services that are provided by both Engrade and Haiku; however, Edmodo also offers a world of resources with free and paid apps and Snapshot (a free lesson plan and question bank). Similar to Haiku, Edmodo provides the opportunity for teachers to interact with other educators. Teachers can participate in community forums and gain insight from educators across the world or co-teach a class with teachers in the same system.

Edmodo is more complex than Engrade or Haiku, but it has distinct advantages.

The Digital Foundation
With the push for more one-to-one settings and computer-based testing and instruction, it is critical for teachers to be methodical and purposeful in the selection of media tools to best enhance instruction. An LMS provides the foundation on which digital learning can be built.

If you are an educator who is considering launching online learning communities, go for it! You should find the LMS that meets your needs. What’s more, your students will learn how to confidently leverage technology in an academic setting.

Erica Preswood is an instructor at University School on the campus of East Tennessee State University, where she teaches seventh and eighth grade English Language Arts.


Teaming Up for a Technology Boot Camp

By: Adam Dudziak, Doug Baker, Ericka Blackburn, Jeremy Shorr


In January 2013, educators in Ohio’s Mentor Public Schools decided to align the district’s academic focus to the instructional practices of blended learning. After extensive piloting of a variety of devices, the district chose the iPad for its durability, battery life and, most important, its power to transform instruction. The district embraced a 1:1 structure that gave every student in grades 6–12 an Apple device.

Although most of our students are tech savvy enough to post pictures on Instagram, create YouTube videos, and use Facetime, we at Mentor wanted to shift their mindset from the iPad being an entertainment device to being an educational tool. We wanted to prepare our students to be productive citizens in a digitally rich society, to harness their connectivity and redirect their technology skills toward problem solving and critical thinking.

After the first year of the initiative, the leadership teams at Mentor’s three middle schools realized they needed to develop a robust on­boarding process. From these collective conversations, the iPad boot camp was born.

The Warm Up

Although the school community was excited about our blended learning/iPad program, we were concerned about handing a young adolescent an iPad without proper preparation. Students needed to realize that the main focus of the iPad was to be an academic tool and not an entertainment device.

We watched with interest as students navigated the technology even as we realized the need for training around using common educational apps and using the technology for educational purposes. As the novelty wore off, we saw students mishandling the devices and treating them with less care. This included a student using his foot to jam the device into his overcrowded locker and small numbers of students who tossed their devices onto the floor as they rushed to their next classes.

We decided our students needed to complete an iPad “boot camp” before being allowed to take their district-issued iPads home. We wanted to roll out these devices in a responsible way to ensure the maximum focus on curriculum, Internet safety, anti­bullying, classroom management, and student discipline.

Each of the three middle schools varied their boot camp program to fit their specific building needs, but the ultimate goals are the same.

The process at all three middle schools begins with a parent meeting that outlines the reasons for the instructional shift, the rationale behind the selection of the iPad, parent and student responsibilities, and an outline of the topics that will be covered during iPad boot camp. We also use this time to help parents create Apple IDs and get acceptable use paperwork signed. The school personnel explain the district policies on device misuse and device repair and give parents time to ask specific questions before the meeting adjourns.

The Workout

The structure of each building’s iPad boot camp varies according to their daily schedules, but the main themes are constant. Each topic is introduced in an advisory period. Each content area is assigned a topic and the team is responsible for developing a “curriculum” so that each teacher is providing similar content to each student. Students must pass a pre­test and a posttest before they are allowed to take their iPads home. These assessments are given throughthe district’s learning management system, which allows teachers to create, manage, and share content and resources with their students in an online classroom setting.

The topics that are covered during the first week of school at every school are:iPad Care

  • Rules and Procedures
  • iPad Basics
  • Digital Citizenship
  • Home/School Connection
  • Schoology (the district’s learning management system)
  • Google for Education
  • Achieve3000 (the district’s online curriculum)

After successful completion of the iPad boot camp, students earn the right to take the iPads home.

The Results

After four months of implementation, we are pleased at the progress we have seen and in the way our students view the iPad. Initially, they saw it only as a means to play online games and socialize through social media apps. Now they are improving their online communication skills and are better able to set aside their favorites games until their assignments are complete.

We have had far fewer behavioral referrals for game playing/social media usage during the school day. We have also seen fewer issues of harassment and bullying through social media because we spend more time discussing appropriate versus inappropriate use.

Most students show responsibility in care and handling of the iPads. Damages to the devices are unavoidable but the school provides a solid case for the iPad and each school gives constant reminders to keep students cognizant that these devices are not indestructible.

This is a rewarding learning process districtwide. The students are being introduced to the online world in a responsible way—with a full time coach next to them. The staff and the students are going through this process together.

Districtwide Training

The staff is receiving internal and external professional development to make their curricula more relevant to this new generation of students. The staff also is encouraged to collaborate with their colleagues as they share their lessons and step up to lead internal building professional development.

The initiative has been stressful for some teachers, but most would say they are rejuvenated and this iPad initiative has given them an opportunity to be on the front line in making sure students are using these powerful devices to maximize their educational journeys.

The administration, in an effort to “practice what they preach,” runs district and building staff meetings as mini-lessons where they share new technology, to meet the needs of the staff. The meetings are run as less lecture and more team discussions. Collaboration is encouraged and the administration is in charge of leading the conversation on using the technology resources to consistently analyze the formative data that is being gathered.

Constant communication with parents is vital so they understand what they can do at home to ensure a successful implementation. The Mentor Schools have been offering Tech Talks for interested parents, and we check regularly to make sure they are monitoring the iPads at home and sharing information with us.

The district’s IT department has been working behind the scenes to ensure a smooth rollout of these devices. It was difficult to predict what would happen when thousands of devices were issued to students and staff. They experienced Wi-Fi speed issues, overloading network issues, and tech issues throughout the district. Our IT department was quick to resolve issues and were excellent in communicating their directions to the staff.

Eyes on the Goal

Whether we like it or not, technology is vital in the success of our students. Although this technology has given teachers an efficient and relevant way to deliver the curriculum, this program also allows us to train our students on how to responsibly communicate in an online world.

Adam Dudziak is principal of Memorial Middle School in Mentor, Ohio. dudziak@mentorschools.org

Doug Baker is principal of Shore Middle School in Mentor, Ohio. baker@mentorschools.org

Ericka Blackburn is principal of Ridge Middle School in Mentor Ohio. blackburn@mentorschools.org

Jeremy Shorr is director of innovation and educational technology for the Mentor (Ohio) Public Schools. shorr@mentorschools.org



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